United Kingdom Freedom of Expression Within the Social Media Essay

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The Positive and Negative Effects of Freedom of Expression within the Social Media in the U.K.


In essence, social media in the UK provides an amazing platform for people to freely express their views, share information, and interact. Indeed, as McGoldrick (2013, p. 49) observes, “Facebook and other internet-based social networking sites (SNSs) have revolutionized modern communications.” Some of the most popular social media platforms in the country include, but that are not limited to, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. It is important to note that unlike in the physical world where relations between people are governed by various social rules and etiquette standards, relations on social media tend to present a limitless and unrestricting facade. In recent times, some countries have attempted to limit the way people relate on social media – even closely monitoring content in an attempt to ensure that freedom of expression in social media is confined within some predetermined limits. In some quarters, the said attempts have been resisted and condemned. It should be noted, from the onset, that in the U.K., like is the case in so many other developed societies, physical confrontations are in essence the basis on which hate speech law is founded. However, in the modern world in which we live, cyberspace has become yet another ‘living space’ parallel to the physical world. This text concerns itself with the positive as well as negative effects of freedom of expression within the social media in the United Kingdom. A common stance will thereafter be adopted.


Part 1

There are a wide range of benefits that would accrue on various fronts, thanks to the enhancement of freedom of expression within the social media in the U.K. These will be highlighted in this section. Indeed, as an article in ICCPR points out, “‘everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice” (Coe 2015, p. 4). The UK is a signatory to ICCPR.

Freedom of expression within the social media in the U.K. plays an important social role of promoting communication amongst people. In the words of Bernal (2014, p. 269), “…much of the current use of the internet relates to the expression of ideas.” In this case, every member of the society is offered a platform to express him or herself without reservation. To begin with, most people happen to have weaknesses that limit their ability to communicate effectively in physical social settings. These weaknesses include, but they are not limited to, shyness, self-consciousness, nervousness, etc. The relevance of social media when it comes to advancing such citizens in U.K. a platform where they can express their political and social views without the fear of ‘the crowd’ cannot be overstated. Next, social media is a great place for people to freely exchange ideas. In essence, physical social interactions have a wide range of limiting factors that limit the ability of people to effectively interact. These include cost and distance. Interactions on social media are inherently cheap and geographical distance is not really an issue as the advent of the internet has made communication instantaneous. Towards this end, people can exchange ideas on a wide range of areas and benefit from each other’s knowledge, expertise, and knowhow. Issues of interest may include politics, social, and health concerns, etc. Thanks to freedom of expression on social media, these ideas can be shared freely without fear of reprisal. Lastly, freedom of expression in social media effectively levels the playing field. It is important to note that all a person needs to access social media platforms is internet and membership/subscription to a social media platform.

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This effectively means that thanks to freedom of expression within the social media, people from all walks of life are given a platform to proclaim their views on a wide range of concerns, regardless of their political affiliation, religious beliefs, economic and social standing, etc.

Freedom of expression within the social media in the U.K. also provides journalists with an important platform to execute their functions (UNESCO 2018). The relevance of journalism as a professional calling cannot be overstated when it comes to engaging the public on issues that benefit the society as a whole. The three functions of journalism are; to inform, to educate and finally, to entertain (Berning 2010). These roles cannot be played well in an environment where freedom of expression in the social media is stifled. This is more so the case given that as it has been pointed out in the introductory section of this text, in the modern world in which we live, cyberspace has become yet another ‘living space’ parallel to the physical world. Firstly, thanks to the social media, journalists can execute their function of informing the public without fear of being frogged before the courts for sensitive stories. As Bartlett (2011, p. 9) points out, “the internet is now almost certainly the greatest source of information for people living in the U.K. today.” Some of the stories the media does do rattle the government, corporations, as well as individuals because of their content. This is more so the case when it comes to issues relating to corruption. Secondly, the public needs to be educated on a wide range of issues so as to make lives better. Issues of concern in this case could include making wise voting choices and decisions, how individuals ought to stand up to their rights, etc. Freedom of expression in social media comes in handy in facilitating this particular role of journalism. Lastly, in seeking to execute their role to entertain, journalists could do some pieces that displease some persons, i.e. celebrities. This is more so the case when it comes to the coverage of what such individuals could regard as their private lives. However, there is really a thin line between the private life and the public life of a celebrity. For instance, as Melville-Brown (2013) observes, “while tabloid interference into the lives of all celebrities is feverish, there seems some eerie obsession with footballers that makes ‘exclusives’ about their private business so newsworthy.” As long as journalists do not go overboard in an attempt to entertain the masses, there is need to protect their freedom of expression on social media so that they can efficiently execute this particular role.

Freedom of expression within the social media in the U.K. is also of great relevance in widening the space for special interest groups to effectively function. In essence, special interest groups seek to promote shared concerns so as to cause or bring about meaningful change (Erbschloe 2017). Some of the special interests that some special interest groups undertake include, but they are not limited to women issues, electoral justice, transparency in government, etc. In the U.K. there are a number of registered special interest groups. These include the Climate Group, Friends of Earth, Fathers 4 Justice, Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, Amnesty International, Electoral Reform Society, etc. To begin with, freedom of expression within the social media in the U.K. would permit special interest groups to uncover social ills without fear of reprisal. Issues that could bring about adverse outcomes for such groups if freedom of expression in social media is not protected and enhanced include….....

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Bartlett, J 2011, Truth, Lies and the Internet: A Report into Young People’s Digital Fluency, viewed 28 April 2018, https://www.demos.co.uk/files/Truth_-_web.pdf

Bernal, P 2014, Internet Privacy Rights: Rights to Protect Autonomy, Cambridge University Press, London.

Berning, N 2010, Narrative Means to Journalistic Ends: A Narratological Analysis of Selected Journalistic Reportages, Springer Science & Business Media, New York, NY.

Brett-Wilson 2016, Ex-husband awarded £5,000 damages for Facebook libel, viewed 28 April 2018, http://www.brettwilson.co.uk/blog/claimant-awarded-5000-damages-in-facebook-libel-case/ 

Coe, P 2015, The Social Media Paradox: An Intersection with Freedom of Expression and the Criminal Law, Information and Communications Technology Law, 24(1), pp. 16-40.

Erbschloe, M 2017, Social Media Warfare: Equal Weapons for All, CRC Press, New York, NY.

Lewis, J & Crick, P (ed.) 2014, Media Law and Ethics in the 21st Century: Protecting Free Expression and Curbing Abuses, Macmillan International Higher Education, New York, NY.

McGoldrick, D 2013, The Limits of Freedom of Expression on Facebook and Social Networking Sites: A UK Perspective, Human Rights Law Review, 13(1), pp. 125–151.

Melville-Brown 2013, Public Figures, Private Lives, viewed 28 April 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/public-figures-private-lives-122177.html

Rowbottom, J.H 2012, To Rant, Vent and Converse: Protecting Low Level Digital Speech, Cambridge Law Journal, 71(2), pp. 112-119.

Scaife, L 2017, Social Networks as the New Frontier of Terrorism: #Terror, Taylor and Francis, New York, NY.

Souza, M.D 2016, Spirituality in Education in a Global, Pluralized World, Routledge, London

UNESCO 2018, World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: Global Report 2017/2018, UNESCO Publishing, Paris.

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