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Should Free Speech Be Regulated in 21st-Century America?

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Free speech — is it really free? It’s a debatable topic that has seen a resurgence in recent weeks.

The subject of regulating free speech is ripe for discussion in light of the recent decisions by social media platforms, major television networks, and other communications hubs to prohibit or discourage speech that is deemed to consciously spread either misinformation or violence.

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As people try to remain woke, the average citizen serves as judge and jury. The court of public opinion has ousted CEOs, celebrities, and citizens from lucrative business deals, gainful employment, and even the ability to communicate on social media.

Free Speech Is for Everyone

Advocates argue that the government has the ability to regulate anything, including speech. Therefore, it’s not really free.

There is a cost, or penalty, for overstepping rules and regulations. It’s important to highlight the exact verbiage of the U.S. Constitution: “Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or 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.”

Free Speech Comes with Restrictions

In comparison to other countries, the U.S. has a more liberal viewpoint of freedom of speech, which comes with restrictions. According to the Pew Research Center, “A 38-nation Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2015 found that Americans are among the most supportive of free speech, freedom of the press, and the right to use the Internet without government censorship. Furthermore, Americans are much more tolerant of offensive speech than people in other nations.”

Where Do You Draw the Line?

It’s hard to tell what is and is not permissible when it comes to free speech. In other words, speech is subject to interpretation. Can this interpretation be a slippery slope? Who draws the line, and who enforces this new mandate?

According to the World Population Review, “Freedom of speech does have restrictions including libel, slander, incitement, copyright violation, trade secrets, and perjury. A person may not incite action that would harm others, such as shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. A person may not make or distribute obscene materials, and students may not make an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event.”

Free Speech and Its Restrictions Was the Topic of the Latest Faculty Debate

Free speech and its restrictions was the topic of the latest faculty debate sponsored by the Wallace E. Boston School of Business and the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).

I was glad once again to moderate the quarterly debate held on March 4, 2021. The topic was “Should Free Speech Be Regulated?”

Adhering to COVID-19 protocols, the debate was held virtually and included two teams of two faculty members each — one team arguing for the principles of free speech and the other team arguing against the notion of unrestricted free speech. The four debaters were Professor CJ Sherman from the School of Security and Global Studies and Professors Gary Deel, Keith Ridings, and Anthony Patete from the Wallace E. Boston School of Business.

The debate focused on recent decisions by private sector companies – including Facebook and Twitter – to censor or remove certain speech and speakers for inciting violence and perpetuating the spread of lies and misinformation.

 The 75-minute debate included opening statements from each debater, questions from the moderator, questions from the virtual audience, closing statements and a friendly poll for fun to see which team debated the topic better.

This debate focused on several topics, including:

  1. Is the U.S. the global leader in free speech?
  2. Cancel culture
  3. The Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capital
  4. Is Dr. Seuss the focus of free speech in America?

So which team do you think was the most persuasive in arguing for or against regulating free speech? Listen to the webinar and judge for yourself (passcode WZA?BRQ1).

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, CLTD, PMP, is a professor in the School of Business and has over 25 years of experience managing projects that specialize in project management and supply chain management. A global speaker and STEM advocate, she obtained a B.S. in Meteorology and an M.S. in Meteorology and Water Resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University.

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