Liberty Annual Conference: Is Speech Free Online?

I was delighted to be asked to speak on a panel at the Liberty Annual Conference yesterday. I took part in the ‘Is Speech Free Online?’ discussion with Ian Dunt of and the Erotic Review, and Bella Sankey, Liberty’s policy director. Martin Howe was the chair.
Speaking first, my co-panellist Ian Dunt made a pertinent point about how the low financial barriers to free speech online are also the reason that online speech may be threatened. People do not need financial reserves in order to publish online – It is cheap and quick. However, this lack of money also means they are more vulnerable to being sued by those who do have money and power. The publishing divide is not between online/offline, but between those with lawyers, and those without.
I began own my remarks by noting that speech was most certainly not free online in other parts of the world. I cited the recent manoeuvrings to criminalise online dissent by the Azerbaijan parliament; China shutting down dissident Sina Weibo accounts; and Fazil Say’s suspended sentence in Turkey.
I spoke about the recent prosecutions from remarks made on social media, and the fact that current laws include the word ‘offensive’ as a trigger for prosecution, which is open to abuse. I noted how the immediacy of social media messaging meant that immature political views follow you around long after they should have been discarded, but that Tweeting and Facebooking are forms of publishing and could never be cordoned off as some special type of speech that is subjected to different laws. Parents and teachers need to help the young ‘uns be savvier about what they choose to publish online. I finished by warning that we cannot take our free expression for granted when we use social media spaces that feel public, but are in fact owned by corporations with a profit motive to censor if it is in their financial interests to do so.
The player is below or you can listen on SoundCloud.

During the Q&A I also managed to slip in a few re-tweetables about the nature of free speech and ‘counter-speech’.

Here’s the view from the panel just before the start of the session, as people began to filter in.

4 Replies to “Liberty Annual Conference: Is Speech Free Online?”

  1. I will like to publish my speech on a Tribute to my father
    Tribute to My Father Dr. Amar Jiwan
    Thank you friends and relatives who have gathered here to pay your homage to my father Dr. Amar Jiwan, more popularly known as doctor sahib to most Veer ji to my Bua’s, phapaji to all my mama’s and Mosi’s and Papa to us
    While it has been very painful to say goodbye to my father, I am comforted at what He has done for our family over the years and made all his sisters & children self-dependent, proud citizens.
    I promised him that we would celebrate his life’s achievements and I would like to use his departure as an example of how he made the most of every situation.
    Like a true Doctor he never gave up a positive attitude to life. He did suffer post his operation in 2011 and his health kept on deteriorating after that. But he was never dependent on any one till the very end.
    He did like to play the flute as a hobby which he gave up many years back and off late he did start to playing the same again every morning with all his preferred tunes of yester years.
    Sometimes he would make my mother sit in front and listen. My mom would land up grumbling early morning as she had to finish the house hold work ..
    In a lighter mood he would make fun of his best friend my mom.
    I had the privilege and honor of seeing him serve as a doctor and I have yet to find any patient return back from him without a complete diagnose.
    His medical Diagnoses was God gifted and precise, without any major tests as against most modern doctors would follow the copy book test before they prescribed any medication.
    I think most of us present today would have been treated by him at some time or the other.
    Even at the age of 82 he had a never die attitude and his commitment to serve has been impeccable as I have yet to know of any doctor who would treat patients on phone.
    Even the patients who have migrated from Delhi would call him for advice.
    He loved to talk to all his patients
    After serving as the doctor to president of India he could have taken up a better financial route for himself post his retirement. But he would never do that. He had no greed for power or money..
    He chose to serve the poor & needy in the neighborhood instead of serving in a five star hospital.
    He was elected as the first un opposed President of Vasant Kunj Sector A association, an active member of the Medical Association and held his last post as a Chief medical officer and the Doctor to President of India. These were some of his last appointments.
    It looks like God just hired a new doctor. God, you apparently have some work for my father, and you obviously have many patients lined for up for him.
    I request if he could continue to get the following.
    His favorite flute to play every morning, and an audience to listen to, laughter, Gole Guppas & Chaat Pakoras
    Thank you mom for every prolonged, comfortable moments he had with you.
    We have been privileged and honored by every minute of his life. He served as a Doctor for over 60 years,
    I will end this tribute to my father’s life by a very simple, profound comment he made when he was ill.
    I asked him one evening what he thought was his cure to his illness. He said “I know my cure” and he pointed up towards God.
    He could not walk. So I had purchased him a walker an evening before he left us and was happy to walk around the house.
    But I did not know that he would walk till heaven.
    Papa you have left many patients here on earth and chosen to treat the ones in heaven instead.
    Thank you all for touching Dr. Amar Jiwan Khanna’s life.
    And for allowing him to touch yours.
    We Love You Papa..

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