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According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘Freedom of Expression’ is the right of every individual to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. The right to express oneself freely is not only necessary for individual growth but also for the growth and development of a country. A democracy would not really be a democracy if its citizens are petrified of voicing their opinions. The freedom to criticize anachronistic and obsolete ideas shows that the society is dynamic enough to change in adverse situations. But in this tech savvy era, where sharing information across the globe takes only a few seconds, are we really making the best use of our freedom?
The free word can cause harm by propagating offensive sentiments or inciting violence.
With the internet and its security of anonymity, societies have become increasingly careless with the written word. From celebrities to common people, nobody gets spared from hateful unsolicited advice. A few days back, one of the leading ladies of Bollywood, Deepika Padukone was shamed on Instagram for posting photographs which apparently ‘insulted’ the hallowed ideals of ‘Indian Culture’. Likewise, when Priyanka Chopra posted a photograph of her meeting the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Berlin, little did she know that she would be mocked at for wearing a dress and sitting with her legs crossed. Haters slammed her for her lack of etiquette.
The free word can cause harm by propagating offensive sentiments or inciting violence. Last year, singer Azealia Banks was accused of throwing racist insults against former One Direction member, Zayn Malik. She tweeted a series of racial and homophobic slurs about him. Research has shown that cyber bullying can have more negative effects than traditional bullying. It leaves the victim feeling scared, depressed, angry and frustrated. It is easier for a person to bully someone over the internet because then, they do not have to face the repercussions of their hatred. They do not know how detrimental their comments can be. One of the most damaging effects is that the victim begins to avoid any social contact.
Harassment of people on online platforms is an act of sheer cowardice and needs to be curbed. In the name of freedom of expression, bullies can terrorize people, xenophobic ideas are spread without restraint and out-dated social standards are enforced in the form of slut shaming, body shaming and homophobic commentary. This can surely not be what our founding fathers had in their mind when they guarded the right to freedom of expression as constitutionally guaranteed human right.
Freedom of expression only works so far as one does not harm another being. It is time for us to realize that with great freedom comes great responsibility.