Close-up of protester holding freedom of speech sign.
Image by Drazen Zigic on Freepik

Freedom of speech is a topic that everyone has an opinion on. It seems like a straight-forward ideal, but why does it cause so much controversy? What exactly is freedom of speech? What does the First Amendment actually protect? Is free expression at risk with the rise of new technology and social media?

In this discussion, I’ll refer to the First Amendment as the foundation for understanding freedom of speech. The First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, prohibiting the free exercise thereof, abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

My interpretation of this is that we, as United States citizens, should be able to say, write, or protest our beliefs without government interference.

This type of free expression is both a public and a personal value. Whether you want to have your voice heard by just one person or by the masses will determine where the value lies for each person individually.

The roots of freedom of speech can be traced back to Ancient Greece, where two terms, Isegoria and Parrhesia, shed light on its complexities. These are two different terms that can be translated as the same but that hold different meanings.

Isegoria, meaning equal speech in public, emphasizes equal speech in public, focusing on the equality of the ability to speak.

Parrhesia, meaning all saying, focuses on speaking freely and frankly, highlighting the liberty to speak freely and frankly.

The two different interpretations make it evident why there is so much controversy over what free expression means today and why it can be both a public and a personal value. In the United States, we see this struggle for its real meaning in a variety of court cases. These court cases continue to contribute to the evolving understanding of free expression in our country.

With the rise of social media, the ability to express oneself, in terms of parrhesia, has become increasingly important to us. We use social media as a space to show the world who we are, to express our personal views, and to connect with others. In addition, we also strongly value social media as a space where ideas, debate, and civil controversy can thrive.

In the media, whether it be the news or video games, the need for truth has become increasingly paramount. When Rivers Were Trails highlights the importance of truth in expression in the form of a video game; however, the need for truth applies to all forms of expression. By disregarding the truth, whether through ignorance or malice, we end up causing a lot of harm.

While the ability to participate in free expression, as parrhesia, is an ideal we have grown accustomed to, it is important that we focus on equality and representing the truth from all parties, as isegoria.

I believe that free expression must be protected at all costs. As we have seen throughout history, silencing people can be devastating. Every person has a voice, and every person should have the ability to express themselves, especially in the face of adversity. Whether it be a personal story, a political viewpoint, a religious tradition, or a work of art, each of these facets contributes to defining who we are, and everyone should have the ability to share their identity with the world.

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