Mariam Teresa Grima – What does it mean to be free online?

What does it mean to be free online? Does media freedom mean being able to say what we want without being mediated?

The idea of media freedom is the right an individual has to speak freely without being censored. However, as we are all well aware, the online world is not the nicest place to speak or do whatever comes to mind. There are always consequences for your actions and everyone is aware of that. For big influencers, cancel culture plays a huge part. Even though anyone can get cancelled, huge entities tend to suffer the most from this.

Being free online to say whatever is something that people think they can do. But unless you do what you have to do or say what you have to say in an anonymous way, it is very easy to get called out. In today’s society, to get cancelled is the easiest thing. The fact that Winston Marshall, a band member in the famous band Mumford and Sons, had to leave the band after the backlash he got from posting a simple tweet on a book he had just read, goes to show how one can get cancelled on the most mundane of things.

So does media freedom mean being able to say whatever we want without any consequences? Are we really free online? From my perspective, the whole point of social media is to share ideas, opinions and to be able to express them freely. However, freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences. This is why we have comment sections, like and dislike buttons and trending hashtags that could get you cancelled. When a YouTuber, or any social media star, removes the ability to comment back, they are defeating the whole purpose of social media being a place to express your views, feelings and opinions. Human respect does play a big part in this aspect. For instance, when famous YouTuber Logan Paul posted that video of a man in the ‘suicide forest’ back in 2017, the backlash he got was big, causing him to lose what he had been building for years. So yes, Logan was free to post and say what he wanted online, however the consequences were harsh. It also seemed like everyone had something to say about this matter, as many other YouTubers made a video on their own channel titled, ‘Dear Logan Paul’, clearly calling him out on his actions.

In reality, it is never really safe to say anything online. There will always be someone who can find something wrong or offensive in what you say or do. Everyone’s opinion is different and the fact that censorship exists helps to minimise offending people. One really should think about the effects of what they are saying will be, but as long as they are respecting others they should not hold back. Being online will always be a place of opinions, everyone has something to say. It would be a very boring world if everyone thought the same way.  However, one must be aware of what they say or how they say it.. Chrissy Teigen, got cancelled recently for horrible tweets that she posted years ago on twitter and she got cancelled again in 2021 for throwing a ‘tone deaf’ Squid Game party. The thought that you could get called out for something that you posted years back is scary. The truth is that everyone makes mistakes, especially the younger version of ourselves.

Sometimes however, I feel like the online world has become so sensitive to everything, that really and truly expressing yourself has become sometimes even life threatening. I mean before you know it Ed Sheeran will be getting cancelled for his song ‘Shape of You’ for objectifying women’s bodies and even more ridiculous going to extreme things like oxygen being cancelled for entering our bodies without permission. It might sound funny and totally stupid, however it goes to show how this cancel culture has made it so difficult not to say or do something and not offend anyone. It has become so easy to cancel someone, but so hard to forgive and coexist.

In reality, in my opinion, we are made to see the online place as a free space and it is, to a certain extent. However in an indirect way we are not. It has become much easier to voice an opinion in everyday society, rather than online as it would permanently be there for everyone to see, and might come back to haunt you 20 years later. Maybe the creators have left it up to us the users, to decide what to say and deal with the consequences alone. And as free as the media seems, and actually is, one should still be very aware of the consequences that follow. So what does it mean to be free online? Free until cancelled.