By Teresa Acosta
Faculty from the Social Science Department on Thursday said education and critical thinking is the key to protecting misinformation from spreading through freedom of speech.
They explained the origin, definition and current threats to freedom of speech.
Moderator Carlos Ramirez, professor of history, asked the panel what freedom of speech means today, and what are the various forms of speech that are protected.
Do people resist speaking freely from fear of retaliation? Is ‘cancel culture’ a threat?
Professor of political science Rogelio Garcia said it is the ability of an individual to communicate political thoughts without fear of persecution or prosecution by the government.
It has evolved from the classic verbal form of speech and now also includes many different forms of expression.
The original intent of the First Amendment was to protect political freedom of speech from being criminalized. It is there to give people the right to express their opinions.
Defamation or libel, obscenity and threats that cause imminent lawless action are types of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court is tasked with applying the language of the First Amendment to the challenges brought forth by the public.
Professor of Political Science Ken Chairprasert recalled a case, Iancu v. Brunetti (2019) in which a T-shirt logo with the word “FUCT” was protected by the First Amendment.
Garcia said some of the biggest threats to freedom of speech today are American oligarchs buying platforms of speech, surveillance and permissive access to personal information.
When a private entity owns an influential speech platform freedom of speech is susceptible to their singular beliefs.
Misinformation is having a divisive effect on what people think freedom of speech is.
The danger is not the speech itself, but the belief that what is being said is true.
Professor of political science, Kelly Velasquez said critical thinking and research by individuals can help spread perspective to others who may not be exposed to factual information.
Having conversations and keeping an open dialogue may also help to reduce misinformation.
“The more knowledge we have the more equipped we are to be able to tease out all of the misinformation that’s put out there,” said Velasquez.
“Knowledge is power and sharing that knowledge within your household is a great place to start challenging the ways that people think,” said Velasquez.
Every generation is tasked with defining and protecting freedom of speech, because it is an ever-evolving idea.
There is a responsibility to stay informed and educated because knowledge is a powerful tool against the dangers of silencing and oppression.
Cancel culture is not new, but it has become democratized, making it much easier for anyone to do it.
Garcia said the government is trying to use cancel culture to silence marginalized groups.
One example is the newly signed bill by Gov. Ron DeSantis, banning public school teachers in Florida from holding classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity.
“The government is always going to try to do something … the danger becomes if people don’t push back on them,” said Garcia.
The oppressors do not want to hear about their oppression, it decreases their power, he said.