Free Speech Is Under Attack in the U.S., But It’s on the Ropes Elsewhere

“Even open democracies have implemented restrictive measures”

If you think free speech is under attack in the United States—and it is—you should see its besieged status in the rest of the world. Open contempt for unrestricted debate prevails in even many supposedly “free” countries and finds its expression in laws that threaten harsh penalties for those who dare to speak in ways that offend the powers that be. “When other communications revolutions like the printing press, radio, and television came along, they were still largely controlled by the elites. But when the internet came along, regulatory bodies like Canada’s [Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission] backed off,” Lawrence Martin of Canada’s The Globe and Mail recently complained while celebrating what he saw as rare U.S. Supreme Court openness to letting government pressure social media companies into suppressing speech. “It was open season for anything that anyone wanted to put out. No license needed. No identity verification”…

Illustration by Sadia Tariq

“The global landscape for freedom of expression has faced severe challenges in 2023,” according to The Free Speech Recession Hits Home, a report by The Future of Free Speech, Danish think tank Justitia, and Aarhus University’s Department of Political Science.* “Even open democracies have implemented restrictive measures.” The report surveys speech regulations in 22 democracies since 2015 and finds a grim situation. Besides the examples above, there is Australia’s crackdown on alleged disinformation, the UK’s Online Safety Bill, the European Union’s Digital Services Act, Denmark’s revived blasphemy ban, Italy’s libel judgments against government critics, France’s and Germany’s restrictions on pro-Palestinian protests, and more. Across the countries surveyed, “except for 2015, every year witnessed a majority of developments limiting expression, with a noticeable upsurge in 2022,” notes the report. “National security, national cohesion and public safety were the most cited reasons for limiting expression…. Intermediary obligations and hate speech laws accounted for 18.3% and 17.8% of restrictions, respectively, with notable implications in countries like Norway, Denmark, and Spain.” As defined in the report, “intermediary obligations” are duties imposed on platforms, such as Facebook, to act as proxy censors…

(TWO excerpts of an article by J.D. Tuccille at the Reason)

Read the full article here.

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