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It’s no secret that the internet has changed the playing field when it comes to mass communications and freedom of expression. There are countless platforms available where people can share just about anything they want. You no longer have to be a media professional, journalist, publishing company, or media conglomerate to publish content for the masses.

The accessibility and ease of use the internet provides have drastically impacted how people practice their First Amendment rights.

With this change, we’ve faced a new set of challenges regarding freedom of speech. We are constantly trying to find the balance between people’s rights and values and the assumed responsibility of protecting the public.

The idea of ranking values and rights in the digital age is an interesting perspective to consider.

Values are incredibly personal and can vary greatly depending on a number of factors, including, but not limited to, their upbringing, their community, and their religion. Because of this, it does not seem appropriate for any entity to rank values.

That leaves us with rights. Our government and private companies are constantly trying to determine and define what rights exist in the digital age. Does the introduction of new technology change people’s rights? The argument regarding regulation and where responsibility for content lies is ongoing.

Congress enacted the Communications Decency Act in 1996 as one piece of legislation that attempts to address this concern. This Act has important points that have helped to shape the dynamic of free speech and the regulation and responsibility of content on the internet.

“The statute effectively eliminates most ordinary legal responsibilities assumed by traditional publishers with respect to third-party content.”

This removal of responsibility for the content from the internet provider and placing it with each individual contributor suggests full freedom of expression for users. But there is still a constant battle over content and censorship.

Should the government, or any private company, be allowed to censor content?

In my opinion, no. One’s right to freedom of expression should not be infringed upon.

Not only was the First Amendment created to prevent any intervention from the government regarding free expression, but the United Nations has also created a Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlining the same.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any medium, regardless of frontiers.”

Multiple countries backing a document outlining freedom of expression, along with the U.S. Constitution, solidify the importance of humans’ right to express themselves without any sort of government regulation.

To really bring this point home and clear up any confusion based on interpretation, that same document ends with Article 30, which states, “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any state, group, or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”

Why, then, do we continue to see legislation designed to regulate and suppress free speech, specifically on the internet?

According to Access Now, “governments are leveraging the internet and digital technologies to quell dissent and strip people of their capacity for collective action, online and off, even in contravention of their own domestic laws and international human rights obligations.”

It seems clear that the influx of legislation and the drive to regulate and/or censor people are infringing on our right to freedom of expression. Even in the digital age, the right to freedom of speech should be upheld at all costs.

It should not be up to anyone to determine what is or is not important just because technology has created new ways for people to communicate. The government’s only responsibility should be to protect the rights outlined in the First Amendment and ensure no legislation is passed that limits a person’s ability to express themselves.

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