By Indigo Jones
To begin this column, I should probably clarify that I am aware how hypocritical it is to say to not push your opinions on others, whilst stating my own opinion continuously. I would also like to personally apologise in advance if anyone feels offended, that is not my intention at all, I am just speaking from personal experience.
Having an opinion and something to be passionate about is something that everyone wishes to achieve, whether it is a religious opinion or whether it is an opinion on a certain music artist. To voice your opinions and create light-hearted debate is what leads to a true public sphere within society. Although, these opinions that people have can turn negative and spawn violent reactions if others go against them. For example, fandom culture, and those who are fans of certain TV shows or bands have a tendency to send unfavourable messages to those who disagree with their opinions, and in some cases death threats are sent.
When people have an opinion that they are very passionate about, or perhaps have an agenda they would like to push and emphasise then they will go to extreme lengths to reach this. Public protests on a large scale are a brilliant example of extreme lengths, although this form of expression is usually the best way for certain groups to get their message across. Protests and riots such as Stonewall are what paved the way for the increase in LGBTQ+ rights, and this is the form of expression that will carry on inflating those rights. Protests give a voice to those who usually struggle to speak, and it shines light on issues that people struggle to discuss whether this be climate change or period poverty.
Social media is also a very valuable tool to voice necessary worries, although social media is what can often turn opinions from something valuable and necessary in society to something negative. The Stop Online Abuse website states that, “Abusers often hide behind the idea that all they are doing is expressing an opinion or a belief, but if the content or manner of the communication is threatening or intends to cause distress, then it may be against the law”, which begs the question to what degree should you keep your opinion to yourself?As stated earlier with the rise of fan culture many people receive hate messages online for disagreeing with others, yet on the other hand with the rise of online activism this has also increased the likelihood of online hate.
As someone who studies the media and intends on being a journalist in future, in my eyes, impartiality is key, and I usually apply that to showing my opinions on certain topics. As a result of the aforementioned, I prefer to keep discussions relating to politics and religion, subjects that spur very heated discussions, at a minimum. I’m not saying that everyone should apply to this, if nobody was to state their opinion then we wouldn’t live in a democracy or certain human rights wouldn’t be achieved. My biggest pet peeve personally is when opinions are thrust upon me, often through social media, through direct messages and general statuses. As stated earlier I keep my personal opinions relating to religion to myself to shy away from arguments or discussions, yet when I use the likes of Facebook opposing opinions are often interjected throughout my timeline. This often leads me to question myself, “If I don’t mock their beliefs, why should they mock mine?”.
An example of where I found many people often disregarded my opinion was when I was a Vegetarian. For three years, I very rarely mentioned that I didn’t eat meat although when it was brought up due to stating dietary requirements before going to restaurants, I was often flooded with questions. The same questions were always asked, “Why are you a Vegetarian?”, “Don’t you miss meat?”, “Why don’t you just have a steak?”. It never failed to surprise me when I was asked these question as I believed the stigma surrounding Vegetarianism and Veganism had slowly gone away, as the amount of people who eat meat or animal products had decreased. Although, saying that I was constantly met with people whose aim was to make me eat meat, rather than the supporting me and my beliefs.
With the rise of climate change groups raising awareness of the state of the planet, this has also increased the number of protests and activist groups around the UK and on a larger scale around the world. The Extinction Rebellion group use protests and stunts within their rallies to cause commotion and raise awareness of the cause. Some may believe these stunts are valuable to bring attention to the climate change emergency, although some may argue that it does more bad than good and as a result disrupt the status quo within society. This use of freedom of expression could cause delays in traffic, making people late for work/school and as result creating more emissions from the cars that are hindered. Protests also lead to the necessary hiring of more police enforcement to ensure the crowds remain safe from possible violent protests and costing the council more money that they could possibly put towards nurturing the environment. This line between protesting for a cause and aggressively protesting for that cause is very small, and perhaps this is what deters many people from joining the rallies, because they are scared of what they entail.
It’s important for rally groups or online activists to realise where there is a line, and to not cross it when protesting, as it could worsen certain situations; yet this also applies to most people in everyday life. Although, this right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression is vital within society, it creates multiple platforms for people to fight for what they are passionate for. Although, when those opinions threaten others and their beliefs, or even the status quo then that’s when there should be some sort of regulation. But how exactly can you regulate freedom of speech if freedom is in the title?