A long blather on Freedom of Speech and Information

On the internet, there is a total freedom of speech and information. The internet is so firm over its absolute freedom of speech and information that it is safe for the minority who wishes to engage in unsociable behaviour. I have never felt that it is unsafe before having children. Now I do.

Freedom of speech and information is not absolute in real life. There are principles to protect or prevent harm. There are social obligations which helps people within the group to avoid unsociable speech.

In a real life social context, those who are pro-pedophiles will not be last long with such an announcement. On the internet, this unsociable freedom might be taken differently. Perhaps even praised and the “news of the world” type websites will publicise such click bait praise.

Innocent craft videos coming out from Russia is an example of freedom of unsociable information. #2 started watching these craft videos and as a parent I get to listen to what they watch. (Joy! O, Joy!) The videos started out with innocent crafts and graduating to those that actively go against the typical school rules eg, hiding food, hiding makeup, etc.

Another channel that works almost the same way suggested a child might like to create a pregnant barbie doll. The way they have done it is to depict this as a lark. It is not a lark. They earn a lot of money obviously but they are sinister in that they encourage being mindlessly anti establishment from a young age.

This is not a BrilliantOriginalConceptTM by Russia. Disney did it first, introducing propaganda via the cartoon characters to target people who can’t read. Russia is now doing the same, by targeting children who can’t read. This is freedom of information. We get to decide whether to consume it.

How do we know without tasting some of it? How can we rely on youtube or facebook or instagram to police things that are of bad taste when taste is subjective? Freedom information does not mean freedom of useful or unbiased information. Just to continue to bludgeon to death this same point: without consuming the material, how does one discern its usefulness or neutrality?

If children are being politicised by youtube, adults are provided politicised content by facebook and instagram by content creators lending their name to the cause of the day. If you didn’t share, if you didn’t talk about it or bring it up, you are not with it and might lose followers. The desperate need to be with it brings the trending topic to a feverish pitch and dies down quickly like rapid change headlines. Yet they are just sharing without having to do a single thing in their life differently. They get to market a trait without having one.

Obama was the first to win at social media – not the first to use social media, obviously. He won because he was cool. He was talking to the voting adults via their medium when everyone else was doing television or pounding pavements – ie, the traditional way. (After him, everyone wanted to be cool. Except for the very old or the dead, every Singapore minister has to deal with social media engagement now. Okay, maybe even the dead.)

In this day and age, we should know by now that trending topics does not mean this is a topic that is critical to the place or the community we are in for discussion. We don’t. We can’t see the money and effort put in to generate those hashtags to push this into our eyeballs. If it appears innocent – like a 5 min crafts video, or the source appears legitimate (eg a newspaper), it must be innocent and/or legitimate. If it appears to be trending elsewhere it must also trend where we live – so that we remain cool and with it.

With the 2020 election in Singapore, I observed a strong social media pitch to sway voters to swing to an opposition. As long as it is to any opposition the swing is thought as good. New parties and new politicians can afford to gamble on taking bigger risks in their strategy. They can afford to concentrate on those with a mobile phone and a social media account. They can also afford to pay lip service to those who obtain their news to traditional media. In fact, they even perhaps ignore these medium due to barriers of entry and the bias in this medium (which is against them). (To that, I would say it is true in general but untrue in certain pockets. You really just have to know that space and win at it.)

Politicians are more fearful than ever of the loss of followers. The argument for this is that, well this fear will push them to do the right thing by us if they are so afraid of losing us. To believe in it needs bold faith. An example: innocuous talk over the state of global affairs is usually coffeeshop talk. On LinkedIn, it merits a separation agreement. It seems to me that to censor, punish and lynch coffeeshop talk is unjust like those terrible kings of history but this is what the public enjoys and it wants. (Has always been, I think.) It makes the normal censorship (nudity for example) in comparison rather tame, just and innocent. It is likely that in this climate of pursuing voters via social media, trade offs, laws (sometimes difficult) will be made with the focus on how can I hashtag this.