Why the elusive line between free speech and online abuse?

I am so, so tired of witnessing how so many social media users get away with ‘murder’ or should I say with pushing others to suicide or a life of misery and self-doubt. I am tired and frankly fed up, fuming in fact, about constantly seeing human beings who are trying to live and let live, people who are trying to make a difference or those who are exercising their right to freedom of speech when passing on feedback and/or intelligent, properly thought out and supported criticism of a public figure’s work, being hounded on online by rude, malicious, irresponsible, careless individuals who vent out through social media their own personal frustrations and insecurities on others. I am sick to my stomach of this new free-for-all landscape that allows absolute evil to reign supreme on our screens, whilst the rest of us sit quietly witnessing lives being verbally massacred, because if we speak up, we ourselves immediately become the target of the faceless online monsters that are unaccountability and self-delusional autocratic word snipers in our lawless social media land. We are clearly in dire need of stringent guidelines, regulations and subsequent implementation of disciplinary measures/legal proceedings to those who take pride in falling short of the basic human requisites which make way for fair, respectful, open, unprejudiced, peaceful, non-threatening, didactic and intelligent exchanges to take place, which are essential to help us grow as individuals, communities and societies, and which ultimately make this world a safer place. In this age of technological advance and online subsistence, we no longer need a gun to take a life and indulge our darker side. Get a computer, seek a target, press return and boom, mission accomplished.

How many suicides, mental health meltdowns, lives ruined due to fear and anxiety does our government and our legal system have to become aware of before specifically targeted regulations are put in place which protect individuals vulnerable to online bullying whilst simultaneously sieving out those who use social media as a verbal weapon to destroy morale, put reputations on the line, defamation, slander, insult, bigotry, personal vendettas, witch hunts and on and on and on? The list of opportunities for long-standing and perpetual harm as social media stands today is pretty much endless. If you want to use your words to target an individual and literally make powder of their self-esteem and credibility, you can have a field day, you can have free rein and make a sport of it, a hobby. You can literally ‘kill’ with your words and nothing, no one can do one damn thing to stop you. Yes, when the unthinkable harm is already done, law enforcement comes hard down on those responsible, sometimes, but for the most part those tormented online suffer in silence for long periods of time, lives ruined, potential deferred, dreams shattered, poison digested on a daily basis which will resurface at some point later in life, if you still have one, to shatter your confidence when you least expect it and ruin everything you have going for you. Why can the unthinkable be thought of beforehand? How many more young lives but older ones too will it take?

I am currently reading Timothy Garton Ash’s ‘Free Speech’. An incredibly in-depth study of the fine line between what constitutes freedom of speech and censorship, which as we know more often than not only serves  the corrupt purpose of  fulfilling an individual or an entity’s ulterior motives. I know this line between criminal behaviour and exercising a basic right is so fine that it is almost invisible, but we are in the 21st century after all, so can we really not pull our smartest brains together to better define this conveniently elusive line, so those who willingly over step the mark to satisfy their own ego, are perhaps deterred by the firm knowledge that their behaviour will no longer go unpunished, unseen, unreported?

I love words. I think anyone who is here can see that, much to your annoyance as I babble on to make the simplest of points. I use thirty words on any given sentence that can be written in ten. I just can’t get enough of them. I love what they say as well as what they do not say, their history, their evolution, their power, their longevity, their sound, their limitless permutations, languages, but most of all, I love how mere symbols on a page can move mountains, help souls fly and achieve the unthinkable, fill us with courage to overcome our deepest fears, give us the motivation to deploy our gifting and lead purpose-full lives, completely heal us when we are broken. Why on God’s earth, in a world which is so full of hatred already, would we in our right minds, use them so irresponsibly, so prolifically, so venomously?

I think going forward there is a key element to take into account when establishing whose behaviour needs to be put a stop to online. Needless to say that an unmistakable act of cowardice and ill-intent with no intention whatsoever of taking any responsibility for your actions clearly lies with those who use their verbal venom to destroy another person when they don’t even have the decency to speak (write) directly to those they seek to annihilate. But for those of us who don’t hide behind a fake identity, a deceptive pretty picture or a weird fake name, who can deny that at some point we have not lost our head and said something online which we regretted or perhaps in hindsight would have enunciated in a less aggressive, insensitive, hurtful way? I think most of us, if we are honest, will admit to having done this on occasion. The key and definitive difference between that and a behaviour that borders on criminality is repetition, frequency, a threatening tone, sheer rudeness as well as the inability to ever retract from our words, to seek forgiveness from those whom we have hurt.

If you saw a person being picked on or verbally abused on the street by a stranger or even by an acquaintance, a friend, on any given day, you would probably think it is none of your business. It is a private affair of which you know nothing about and so you walk on. But, if you go back to that same place a few days, a week, month, year later and every time you witness that same person being verbally tortured relentlessly by the same accuser, you begin to think maybe you are witnessing a criminal behaviour which needs further consideration and certainly very much points to an aggressor who needs stopping and a victim who needs rescuing or at least protecting. I would then certainly intervene or report the situation and let the authorities investigate the whys and the hows of such aggressive lop-sided altercation. Repetitive, frequent, abusive, rude, threatening online behaviour is easy to spot and even easier to stop, if as a society we really put our mind and resources to it. The question is why have we not done so yet, not really? Who does it serve, truly, to let this online hidden mental and emotional and in far too many cases ultimately physical massacre, go on noticed but more often than not unpunished? Is it perhaps possible that doing nothing of true consequence and therefore perpetuating this unjustifiable abuse of freedom online on an epidemic scale is helping those with the power to stop it attain their goals and further their hidden agendas? The infamous Big Brother who was designed to protect us but is at the helm of our greatest neglect and ultimate destruction. Frankly, as things stand today, I can’t help but wonder.

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