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Freedom of speech still has various costs in society

Posted on April 30, 2014 by Taber Times

Taber Times staff has had various comments made to them about a Facebook page that has popped up in recent weeks entitled ‘Taber Confessions’ — none have been positive.

Those complaints have filtered over to the Taber Police Service where the grey area has been explored on whether various comments have entered the arena  of cyber-bullying and personal-safety threats. These would be posts that certainly could make their way into legal ramifications where law enforcement agencies could get involved.

Some have gone to the degree in approaching The Times about doing articles about trying to shutdown the site.

In no way, shape or form would The Times ever condone flat out censorship. As Voltaire eloquently put it, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

No one can know for sure what the original intent of the Taber Confessions Facebook site was except for the administrator themselves.

Maybe the intent was truly what its namesake entails, that people get issues off their chests they might not feel comfortable doing if they were not anonymous.

But complaints about Taber Confessions to The Times have been about how negative the site is compared to how many positive posts there are.

Small-town gossip in its purest form.

The phenomena found on the Taber Confessions page is no different than that you see in a sports chat room, political blog or even discussion at the dinner table during family gatherings — things can get pretty ugly in a hurry.

That same safety one can feel being anonymous on a site like Taber Confessions dealing with problems where they may find out they are not alone, there is the safety for Internet ‘trolls’ to roam the digital countryside with reckless abandon. A troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, according to Wikipedia.

And therein lies the challenges of free speech. Like any good thing, it can be abused.

When our forefathers fought and died for the right to free speech, visions of how it would be used probably entailed speaking up against tyrannical governments, corrupt corporations or involving peaceful protests involving international relations.

Not likely the free speech arguments of today defending spiteful insights on people’s waist lines, the colour of their skin or degree of their sexual activity.

But in the end, if one truly believes in the freedom of speech, the latter has to be defended just as hard as the former no matter how unsettling it might be for some. That does not mean that speech should not have any responsibility attached to it.

The tone of the Taber Confessions Facebook Page looks like it is intended for teenagers and young adults, given the majority of various anonymous messages one would read on a given day.

When it comes to bullying today, youth face way more challenges than those generations who spent their biggest formative years pre-Internet. The bullying used to be on the playground or the hallways where at least you were afforded the opportunity to confront your tormentor face to face. Now that bully is safely nestled in their chair behind a computer screen spreading any innuendo they feel fit to a mass audience where actual fact often means little.

Technology was supposed to make people feel more connected and it seems like the youth of today is as disconnected as ever. Less face-to-face contact has impeded social skills and graces and overall empathy for your fellow man or woman.

Perhaps Voltaire’s wisdom of the 18th century needs to be updated for the 21st century to read “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it…unless you are a jerk. In that case, at least have the courage to say it to someone’s face.”

Saying something that may not be the most popular opinion of the day is what the purest form of freedom of speech is all about and is courageous — if you own up to it.

Attacking people anonymously on Taber Confessions is the coward’s way out.

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