November 9, 2022 at 1:45 PM #9525SUCULTUREAdminLondon, United Kingdom
Twitter, and The
Problem.Musk now christens himself as the “free speech absolutist”, a beacon of free speech. But what does this mean, particularly for structurally marginalized communities [that is, people without a voice, a platform or power]? Does this really mean that Musk is focused on allowing the public to express themselves in ways antithetical to societal ideals/norms, without any resulting consequence or accountability?
According to Musk, in April 2022 “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
To unpack this we must understand ‘free speech’ through the lens of history, as well as the posthumous demonization and criminalization of people of African descent, and other groups/communities who may be classified as ‘minorities’ generally.
The synonymy of Blackness, otherness, classification and ‘free speech’ in the United States, Europe and most of the ‘Global North’ is not a new phenomenon. This intersectionality captures the structural and dynamic forms of discrimination and systems of subordination.
Historical accounts gives us an important point of reference on how the use of [myths, stereotypes, and/or racist ideologies] under the guise of ‘free speech’, academia, or sociology led to discriminatory policies, fueled racial violence, lynching, incarceration e.t.c in the mid-15th/19th century and the post-Reconstruction era, in the United states – and especially, in the 20th century when the language of Apartheid and colonization gained political and policy traction.
Misconceptions and prejudices manufactured through various theories, reflects how prejudice/free speech, racism, patriarchy [and other discriminatory systems], contributes to and creates layers of economic disadvantages, and social inequalities in contemporary society. The exploitation of these nuances or misrepresented attributes has been justification for the unlawful deaths of millions, the disproportionate criminality of Black masculinity and the lack of career/professional opportunities for targeted groups.
The demonizing process through the use of language as ‘free speech’ dismisses Black lives as less valuable, and sustains the criminalisation as well as the negative connotations of other culture’s in forms of ‘micro-insults’, ‘micro-
aggression’ and ‘micro-invalidations’.
Through the repetitive and daily regurgitating/reaffirming of historical/negative social constructs, hate speech as free speech takes on a new definitive meaning, and becomes internalized as truth. The obvious consequences of such expression to individual dignity and sense of security are not just complex, but far-reaching. Hate speech does not only offend, it silences.
There is a wealth of research and empirical data that shows conclusively, the speed at which false information spreads online. Diversity of viewpoints in a free marketplace of ideas as a process/conduit to discover truth, has the potential to propagate falsehoods.
According to a recent report, hate speech surged by approximately 500% in the first 12 hours following Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.
Racism under the appearance of freedom of expression and incitement has had different cycles throughout human society; with tragic real-world consequences. While the absolutist viewpoint on freedom of expression is protected under the US First Amendment, the right to hold opinions without responsibility [or content moderation] cannot be an absolute right and comes with “special duties and responsibilities”, particularly under international legal instruments.
As we experience the mass exodus of users, and employees, under the increasing toxification of Twitter under Musk’s leadership, it is the collective body of Black creators, writers and thinkers who will reshape our future narrative.
We all have a responsibility to ensure spaces for discussions and exchanges are underpinned by mutual respect, and that individual rights to dignity are not trampled on.
Our focus at SUCULTURE is to offer a home [a space to discuss trending issues affecting Black people, in every corner of the world, during tumultuous times.]
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