One of my high school friends died in a car accident. The news came in with a sudden strike in the middle of a school week. However, instead of hearing it from any form of media, I heard it from my teacher. After this emotional blow, many of my classmates started to “investigate” themselves, since no news was being released. They started to ask the victim’s parents about the details of the accident. Then, what happened next was that different versions of stories were being posted and reposted on social media, some of which even attached the picture of the victim on them.
Of course people have freedom expressing their ideas, but should the highly praised “freedom” be used as an excuse for trespassing on other people’s personal rights? Because of the disclosure of the pictures and the personal information of the victim, his family might suffer more than the pain of losing their only child: the continuous interruption caused by the posts on social media. “We are trying to help him retrieve the lost justice!” One of them justified their actions like this. Due to this simple justification, I realized that their intentions meant no harm to the victim, which terrified me more. The power of public opinion was invisible, lying quietly in every person’s unconsciousness. This factor turned public opinion into a more uncontrollable dilemma.
Another reason for why it is hard to determine the extent to which “freedom of speech” should go is because the media is nowadays more like an industry of capitalism than a pure mean of communicating information to the public. The advertisement implantations are seen in almost every TV shows and live shows. With the increasing profit generated by digital media and the traditional paper newspaper, private enterprises controls most of media people view every day. In the United States, the six companies that control 90 percent of what people read, watch, or listen to are GE, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS. These companies generate $275.9 billion every year, which highlights the reason why the media is not trustworthy sometimes, since companies can prevent information that relates to their interest from being exposed. This contributes more to the damage on the freedom of speech. I’m from China, and my country ranked last in two consecutive years in terms of the media freedom index. On one hand, the constitution of China ensures freedom of speech for every citizen, yet it is afraid of the leak of confidential information through the internet. As a result, regulations are set to shield certain key words on the website. Until 2017, 37 journalists were sent to prison. Some are sentenced just because they drew attention to the corruption of government. Coming back to the case of the car accident, the news is blocked partly because the car the victim took was a third-party taxi, just like Uber. The third party is owned by a large company that owned huge financial resources to escape from the responsibility and to prevent the case to be reported.
Admittedly, the “freedom” can become extreme when it comes to celebrities. Last year, when a Hollywood producer was accused of sexually assaulting several actresses, the actresses did not stay silent. They used their special identity of public figure to make speeches and gained a lot of influence, which also boosted the feminism movement. For the actresses and actors, what they are facing every day is attention and inevitable exhibition of their private lives to the public. People comment on their behaviors, their outfit and their relationships. In terms of freedom, the public wield most of their freedom of speech on the celebrities, since they know no consequence will result from their behaviors. The celebrities also can make their words sound more powerful than common citizens do.
At Wake Forest, we also embrace the freedom. In the WakeRating website, students can rate the teachers anonymously and comment on their classes. However, some comments are extremely biased. When I scrolled down the comments below a professor, one comment read: “I will not fasten my seatbelt on my drive to school because I want to die before attending this class.” This sounded funny when I first read it, but this kind of comment is usually created by the little effort the student put in the class, not the professor’s problem. Despite the freedom of speech, I think something has to be done about the censorship of the comments students send.
That’s what makes the definition of freedom complicated and ambiguous. While having to ensure freedom, the degree to which it extends is also essential for people’s judgment and perception of a person or an event.