“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Common understanding of freedom of speech is that we are free to say anything we want, as long as our speech does not interrupt upon the ‘fundamental freedoms’ of others. The idea is that one’s freedom of speech must not cause ‘harm’ to others.
Freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India has been regarded as the second most important right after the right to life of a citizen. However, it is not an absolute right, there are restrictions specified under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India. Rights come hand in hand with responsibilities.
According to Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution, the legislature is empowered to impose certain restrictions on free speech under the following heads:
- Security of the State
- Friendly Relations with Foreign States
- Public Order
- Decency and Morality
- Contempt of Court
- Incitement to an Offence, and
- Sovereignty and Integrity of India
If one takes a closer look at these imposed restrictions, it becomes clear how often this very ‘Freedom of Speech’ is subject to misuse.
In recent times, it appears to be the most misused right in India, especially on the internet. If one spends more than two minutes on the Internet, one will probably come across trolling, bullying, insincere but deliberately hurtful comments and other things that no one would say on another person’s face.
Freedom of speech on the internet is scaling new heights every day with complete disregard for the restrictions specified under Article 19(2). People post their views the moment they come across a statement. Mostly, it either gets a thumbs up or sarcastic criticism.
With the explosion of social media, internet trolling is becoming a big challenge, especially for women users on social media. In recent times, there is a growing voice against this online harassment especially faced by women in power, whether it’s celebrities, journalists or politicians. Men are also subjected to online abuse and hate speech, they are generally attacked on professional grounds whereas women have to tolerate personal attacks, including references to their bodies and sexual as well as actual threats of violence, particularly sexual violence.
While there have been growing voices to set up a mechanism to control online trolling, government officials believe, it is not possible to regulate or check online abuse and trolling as jurisdictions are territorial. While they do acknowledge the role social media has played as an instrument of promoting freedom of expression as well as empower people, some officials believe that if growing misuse of social media channels does not come down, the medium may burn itself out and lose credibility.
To be sure, freedom of speech does not mean the other side has an obligation to listen. But it also does not mean that the other side can be shouted down. Indeed, someone will say something that you consider obscene, tasteless, offensive or insulting to something or someone you value.
The Indian law provides for prosecution as well as damages for misuse of freedom of speech. Hence people who take pleasure in bringing disrepute to others should caution themselves as the law can be stringent and punitive.
In conclusion, freedom of speech must always be accompanied by restrained in order not to cause damage or bring disrepute to others.
The Indian Lawyer