Professor Sir Richard Sorabji considers free speech in the age of social media, and questions whether legal restrictions on certain speech acts or self-restraint are the most effective and appropriate model of regulation.
We can be thankful if we live in countries which allow a right to freedom of expression. But before using it, we need to think what is the value of freedom of expression. J.S. Mill’s wonderful survey of its benefits seems to presuppose that free expression leads to discussion, and hence to more understanding. But what, for example, about attacks on rival religions? They can stop discussion dead and replace it with retaliation, which impedes even re-thought about the original attack. The law is a clumsy instrument, and voluntary self-restraint could be better at preserving the benefits of free expression. There have been cross-cultural examples since ancient history of leaders good at encouraging listening to rival views.