Defending Free Speech Even When We Disagree

The Internet has given us all a soapbox to speak our minds, granting a podium for many whose voices previously went unheard. Social media have made it easier to share opinions, legitimizing what we have to say, even if we're wrong, by drawing audiences sometimes comparable (or at times better) than traditional press. In the old days, we could politely avoid hot button topics in the company of acquaintances so as not to ruffle any feathers. Nowadays online, a day doesn't pass without a friend, family member, or business associate sparking a debate by talking about politics, religion, sports, or the latest pop culture controversy.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.

Some of my best friends hold radically different opinions from my own, but what makes our friendship strong is that we respect and listen to each other, even when we disagree. I want no part of the old Internet flame wars when trolls lurked on message boards ready to pounce and monopolize a discussion with crude attacks in an attempt to silence anyone who didn't share their own marginal world view.

We can talk with each other about important issues and frivolous ones. We should all welcome the chance to explore different points of view, because only then will our own opinions be tested, becoming stronger or veering closer to the truth.

Events in the news have led to networks refusing to air old episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard and the sitcoms of Bill Cosby. James Poniewozik writes a thoughtful essay in TIME magazine's "Tuned In" column titled "Dump the Confederate Flag, Dump Cosby, But Don't Dump the Reruns," which posits that erasing the General Lee or Cliff Huxtable from our airwaves might make some people feel better and might in itself be making a statement, but it doesn't add much to the public discourse beyond the removal of old shows. It's the type of article that begs for further discussion, and that's possible on the Web, where anyone can add their own two cents, agreeing and amplifying certain points while countering others. (Check out my own blog post, "Is It Possible to Separate the Artist's Work from the Artist's Scandal?," for another thought exercise on the issue.)

We have the power to refute hate speech or misleading statements, while also popularizing comments that we consider to be meaningful and worthy of spreading to anyone who will listen. Only a thriving, robust marketplace of ideas can ensure our own liberties and cultural advancement. We may not agree on everything that's said, but we should defend the right to say it.