Elon Musk is wrong about zero restraint free speech

May 19, 2022 | 05:13 pm PT
Nguyen Thi Hong Chi Lecturer
Free speech with zero restraints is a self defeating chaos. At a time of rampant fake news and misinformation, the need of the hour is to weed them out, not allow them to fester.

Last month, a short news piece became a topic of discussion for my class.

The lesson was about the power of news and information, about how fake news is detected and analyzed. It turns out that my students, all young people, are feeling the brunt of the sheer amount of information they are bombarded with. Information about the Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, is an endless sea.

A recent study by Oxford University revealed that around 76 percent of young people are exposed to fake news from online sources at least once a week, an increase of 50 percent from two years ago.

"A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots" said Mark Twain. I think that quote is apt for our times.

In the past, large platforms like Facebook played it safe; they only called themselves technological platforms that aggregate information to connect users, not media companies. That's how they avoided the troubles associated with being a publisher.

The tech world was shaken when Elon Musk said he wanted to buy Twitter. The little blue bird was about to fall into the hands of a billionaire who said he would turn it into "the platform for free speech."

But it isn't that simple. Not all speeches deserve the same degree of expression. Different countries will have different laws about it. An entirely, absolutely open system, where anyone can say whatever they want, isn't necessarily a good thing. Hate speech hurts everyone equally.

Data from datareportal.com reveal that Vietnamese spend 7.06 hours on average on the Internet every day, higher than the world average of 6.53 hours. There are now 4.62 billion social media users globally, 3.1 times more than the 1.48 billion in 2012.

Another report by Harvard University said that just a decade ago, only 8 percent of Americans aged over 65 used social media. Nowadays, that figure is 40 percent.

Recent studies have shown that age is heavily correlated to how one is affected by fake news and misinformation. Older folks generally have less experience dealing with clickbait content and are more likely to be influenced by ads.

Not everyone is aware that what they're looking at is only a piece of the full story. Not everyone is aware that someone is paying for you to see what they want you to see. Truth seeking, therefore, is a vital skill in this digital age.

With the ubiquitous prevalence of smartphones, misinformation can now do several rounds around the world in seconds. The advice to "think before you share" has never been more relevant. Stop for a bit before you read anything online. Check the source, check the author, figure out what message it's trying to convey... Such little acts would help us shield ourselves better from fake news.

A clean Internet environment is absolutely possible if users educate themselves better on how to consume news wisely. This is more important and meaningful than free speech without restraint.

*Nguyen Thi Hong Chi is a media lecturer in HCMC. The opinions expressed are her own.

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