The Free Speech Conundrum

The Oxford Dictionary defines free speech as ‘the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint.’ It is seen as a fundamental right in modern society, and for a long time it served without question. Yet in 2017, it seems that that right is now under attack.

In the West, all one needs to do is to look at the comments on articles online about a variety of different issues, to find commenters labelling someone who does not share their view as either a ‘cuck’ or a racist, bigot or a homophobe.

These comments have become ever more apparent since Britain’s vote to leave the E.U. in June of 2016 and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and subsequent election in November, 2016. Consequently, this displays a worrying trend.

In the past, it was the unwritten agreement between society that people could have differing views about subjects such as immigration, politics and the economy and that respectful discussions could be had on such matters, and if the people having the discussion did not agree they could respectfully agree to disagree. Now however, that seems to have disappeared.

Since the rise of populist right and left wing movements in Europe and the United States, a clear divide seems to have emerged, where you either support one view or the other, and if you do not, you are either a liberal fool who is going to be responsible for the ending of Western civilisation, or you are a racist bigoted person who should get out more. These accusations do little to actually stimulate debate. Instead, they do more to strengthen the ‘us and them’ feeling that is already prevalent within society.

The more accusations are flung, and the more people shout others who hold differing views down, the more likely it becomes that people on both sides of the left and right divide will go looking for those who share their views. This consequently builds up the echo chamber effect, where after receiving constant streams of encouragement from their fellow ideological peers, individuals will find that others who oppose the views they believe to be right, are wrong, and should be taught that they are wrong by any means necessary.

Such thinking could be one of the reasons why Donald Trump has encouraged so many riots. Voters who did not vote for Trump have given many reasons for why they did not vote for him, and why they were marching in protest against him. However, these protests seem to have done little to actually encourage debate and discussion in the United States. Instead, things such as the Women’s March and the protests outside talks given by noted Trump supporters such as Milo Yiannopoulos, have instead drawn ridicule from Trump supporters and others on the right. Ridicule and the belittling of those who march as nothing more than ‘cucks’-short hand for cuckhold-  draws anger and resentment amongst those who march. Perhaps that is the reason why some protests break out into riots. Riots are visible displays of anger, and anger only comes about when people are either throwing a tantrum or have reached their limit and are letting the steam out of their system. This is not good, as it only furthers the views of Trump supporters that people who oppose them are not mature enough to hold a proper conversation, and therefore not worth debating.

On the flip side of this, interviews with those who are Trump supporters, or were supporters and campaigners for Britain’s exit from the EU are labelled as xenophobes, fools and voting against their own interests. When they give what, they believe are valid arguments for why they voted to leave, they are talked down to and looked upon as naïve fools who are going to get their just deserts. This does nothing to encourage them to actually keep the discussion going. This breeds resentment inside of them, as it makes them feel that they are being laughed at by a group of people who do not know them and do not want to know them. It prevents them from speaking out in a manner that could be healthy for the discussion of serious issues in their country.

Western society prides itself on being the home of democracy, on being the bedrock of good values such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and many other freedoms. Yet when people within society feel that they cannot freely express their opinion whatever it might be, without fear of ridicule, then that does nothing for debate or discussion. Instead, it breeds nothing other than resentment against one another, in a time when there are so many other threats facing society that need to be faced.

This writer suggests that people who hold opposing views try to sit down with one another, hold a discussion with one another, get both sides of the argument, and if at the end of the day they still do not agree with one another, they shake hands, and agree to disagree. Like adults. Name calling does nothing, and will change nothing. But perhaps reasonable discussion will, as people are always more likely to listen when they are being treated as equals not fools.




Cambridge Analytica and Brexit

Reports that the Information Commissioner’s Office will be investigating  the use of people’s personal data during elections within the UK, comes after the Observer reported that Robert Mercer and his company helped shape the electoral result in the EU referendum in favour of the Leave Vote. Mercer, friends with Nigel Farage, introduced the man and the leave campaign to Cambridge Analytica, a computer firm that analysed people’s liking habits on Facebook, as well as their private data online, to pitch targeted adverts toward them to shift them to voting for leaving the EU. Aarons Banks is quoted by The Guardian as saying ““world class” AI had helped them gain “unprecedented levels of engagement”. “AI won it for Leave,” yet when the company itself was asked for comment, they declined, and then subsequently issued a statement saying that they had not had any part in the electoral process. Politico states that the Leave Campaign did not file any donation from the company-though talk from the leaders of the campaign states that they did- thus raising ethical questions.

This seems to have been hushed over in the euphoria for the Leave Campaign in achieving their desired outcome. Yet the boasts in recent weeks and months since the election of Donald Trump have put them under deep scrutiny, hence the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office. Denials by Cambridge Analytica that they had any involvement with the Leave Campaign, despite word to the contrary from leading Leave members, raises eyebrows. Is it possible that now the dust has settled, the law might be coming for them, and they are trying to desperately cover their tracks? Certainly the feeling of public outcry against such a thing might well be muted.

Some of the snapshots of comments on the articles by The Guardian and Politico include: ‘Another, and another, so it goes on. Will the Remainers never admit defeat.
Most people who decided to vote Leave, were unaffected by the Referendum, and had made up their minds, years ago! This was because since the EU, we have been bled, by a profligate over expanded Bloc, run by ambitious self serving politicians.’ and  ‘You Lost ………..’ as well as ‘ A point of interest to commenters here. If you want to receive a lot of upvotes, put in the most absurd comments possible. I have noticed that if you blame Billionaires you will receive huge validation. So try Trillionaires – see how that goes. Brexiters are racists, xenophobes gets a lot of upvotes. Try nazi’s, or cannibals. Recently, “brain dead children of Satan” worked well. I would like to offer something more extreme but I think that is pretty much off the scale of civility and sanity.’

These comments are just three of around four thousand on the article, some of which express outrage that a billionaire and a tech firm could have manipulated the referendum and that the Leave Campaign did not disclose their help. Other comments disparage the article, and the concerns expressed by other commentators.  It appears as though the commentators who disparage those raising perfectly valid questions about whether or not the use of Cambridge Analytica was legal, do not really care that the democracy that many within the UK hold so dear, was impeded upon or even violated. It seems, that they care more about pointing out that the people raising concerns, are merely ‘remoaners’ who can’t get over the fact that they ‘lost’ the referendum. The clear point that voters had their data used against their consent for political purposes does not seem to bother them.

This writer must ask, if the referendum had gone the other way, and it was later found that remain had used voter data in the same way as leave, would these same commentators be so blasé about it all? Would papers such as the Daily Mail, or Breitbart be ignoring the connections as they are doing now?  One thinks not. This writer thinks that the hypocrisy of democracy is showing through once more, the flaws are there for all to see, but one must wonder when it will be clear to all. The system is broken, and change needs to be made.





Scottish Independence: A Pipe Dream?

Since Britain voted to leave the EU, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have continued to call for a new referendum on Scottish independence. Sturgeon, alongside many SNP members, claim that as Scotland overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU (62% of Scottish voters voted to remain within the EU) and as such, they believe Westminster no longer represents the best interests of the Scottish people.

Sturgeon claimed after the referendum result that she would call a second independence referendum when 50% of the population were in favour of it. Recent polls by The Guardian, suggest that 45% of the voting public support a second referendum, 5% away from the 50% needed, and up ten percent from before the EU referendum.

However, one must wonder what Sturgeon and the governing SNP intend to do should they achieve independence.  Findings by the Economist, show that since the first independence referendum in 2014, the price of Brent Crude oil (Scotland’s main oil export) was $110 a barrel, since the crash in oil prices, the price of Brent has decreased by half that value and stands at $55 a barrel. The original Brent rig is scheduled to be dismantled this summer, which will hit the Scottish economy hard. This especially the case as Scotland’s second biggest economic sector, finance, has lost over a tenth of its overall jobs since 2014, average pay in the industry fell by 5% last year.

These statistics are damning, and with there being no Government paper stating how the SNP would handle an independent country’s economy- unlike in 2014- one must think that Nicola Sturgeon is lurching from one prayer to the next. Scotland exports more than 40% of its goods south of the border, and whilst Sturgeon and company, ridiculed English voters for voting for Brexit, if Scotland became independent, one can be guaranteed that new trade tariffs would be smacked onto their goods, reducing the total revenue coming into the country. The issue of what currency would be used is there, Theresa May, unlike David Cameron three years ago, is in no mood to allow Sturgeon the audacious claim of using the Pound, nor is she willing to allow regiments of the British army stationed in Scotland to form a newly independent Scottish army.

At the moment, it seems that Nicola Sturgeon is blustering for independence, in the hope of gaining access to a fair deal for Scotland. There have been talks of Scotland joining the EU, after independence. Confidence in this, is pushed by the fact that Spain would resist any such move, to prevent Catalonia pushing for independence, as would Belgium and Germany.

Sturgeon and the SNP are clinging onto the hope for independence, but until they can provide a reliable economic and social solution to the issues they are faced with, this author believes they will continue to use Westminster as a scapegoat for their own failings.