Freedom of speech and SFN

The events over the last week have raised the subject of freedom of speech here in France and in many other countries. In fact here it is a rhetorical question since we are writing, but the principle is the same. Perhaps we might even call it freedom of expression instead. In principle everybody agrees with the notion but there are quite sizeable differences between where some people believe in absolute freedom and other believe there need to be limits.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris is my starting point for reasons that will become clearer as I go along. Some articles are very important:

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 12: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Those will do here, but if anybody wished to see the entire declaration it is available on .

I am starting there because most of my work, although I specialise in researching childhood and children, is within the human rights arena. Those of us working in its entirety know that UN treaties, conventions and declarations are often only ideals which, despite often global or majority accession to them, are often frustratingly disregarded and the contrary is often law or practice. However, they provide a set of principles that save us all devising a far more complicated set of guidelines or values of our own.

Article 19 is particularly under the spotlight at this moment in time. The principle it advocates has no boundaries included, yet there are many people who would dispute that by saying that although limits are not expressly included they are there. At the furthermost extreme there are nations, ethnic and religious groups who have endorsed the Declaration yet absolutely do not practice what this article proposes. There are, of course, also others who reject the entire declaration and any notion of universal human rights. One might say that the entire spectrum that Article 19 entails is there, including its unconditional rejection.

So where does that put us? Well, SFN is a network of people who share it for their own, probably very diverse reasons. Whilst it is an Anglophone site, it has membership of numerous nationalities who use English as a common language. Then, it is one that is very much the product of that membership rather than its proprietors. They have shared some of their responsibility by forming an administrators group. All members of that group are volunteers without vested interests in SFN. They are required to be fair and impartial in every discussion and decision they share with Catharine and James. I am one of those people and can say that we are not perfect, fairness and impartiality are not always the easiest things to put into practice, but we try hard. The relevance to freedom of speech and expression is that where and when necessary we have to intervene, make decisions but never wish to control or censor content. That is a very hard number to call.

Personally, I love a good debate. I will always stand my ground but although I have been accused of it, I do not bully people or disrespect views held by those I metaphorically cross words with. If people are factually wrong I might well tell them so. If somebody wishes to tell everybody definitively that penguins are only found at the North Pole, then I will probably tell them that they are only found in the Southern Hemisphere. If they dispute that, I know very well somebody else will follow through to correct them, but equally somebody sharing their view may support them. However, actually bullying them into submission or dismissing opinions or saying that their views are wrong is not what I do. Nor should other people. Disagreeing and holding one’s ground is simply part of debating, whether we are right or wrong. SFN tries not to interfere with those discussions unless they get excessively aggressive, angry or just plain dirty. In short, this network is encouraging freedom of speech.

Are there limits? Well, yes there are. They are our own limits that we set and retain for ourselves but can never force others to accept. We may argue to defend them or against those of others, but the views held by others cannot be taken from them. That is dictatorship as well as censorship.

The good that has come out of the last few days is that this dialogue has been opened between people, groups of people and, up to within, and between nations. Not only the Charlie Hebdo atrocity, but also attention is being drawn to thousands of people being killed in Nigeria, a web journalist and his defence lawyer being severely punished for attempting to use their freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia and other equally unjust things going on in a number of nations, not all of them Islamic by any means. However, the good side of the freedom of expression was shown when Jews and Moslems marched together in Paris, showed common concern for our world and especially when one gave the other a flower as a gesture of goodwill and peace. The message is, after all said and done, we are only one human race sharing a small speck in a vast universe. If we share justly then that will include mutual respect which in turn includes freedom of speech and expression.

SFN espouses those values which is why I said to myself this all needs to be said.

Thank you Jane for your support.

I, personally am not anti immobiliers.

I would like to see some improvements in the way they

operate. Like most things there is room for change.

Veron Green, can you cook as well as Barbara ?

Yes I believe in freedom of speech.....but not making very personal attacks!

Not on here....not any where.

Veron Green my English is certainly far from perfect.....but I feel that you have

no right to call me illiterate.

have no right to

celeste, its like a competition of evil... Neither side is right!

We don't want to take it for serious because as Ian & Steve are already writing, the cover-ups are so good. They are good because of the efficiency of snooping. Its a vicious circle.

By the way, France Info just now admitted that due to the French media's intense navel gazing of the past week they'd entirely overlooked the fact that Boko Haram had massacred 2,000 people in Nigeria (OK, they didn't quite put it that way!) See

Slightly off topic but this, by a friend and former colleague, makes interesting reading.

Echoes a post by another friend and former colleague who is an authority on the Middle East and all things Islamic.

There are several links on the subject on Jonathan's page which are well worth reading.

Same with the mushrooms from the Drôme too, Steve :)

Mind you, when you've seen Aluminium Pechiney buying up the wine and cattle produced near their fluoride-belching factories to pour down the drain or incinerate, you wonder what makes veggies produced in the same areas immune...

@ Ian, re Chernobyl, we were in Dent (N Yorks) getting soaked. In common with the sheep from those hillsides, once I pop my clogs I may not be eaten, by law.

Celeste, they didn't tell us anything about Sellafield blowing up in 1957, living 30 miles away. It only started to come out when mates at school started dying of leucemia. Mind you, I spent Chernobyl day shoving fence poles into the ground under the pissing rain in the Vercors, so I seem to be fully inoculated :)

Web 3.0: Installing the Plumbing

was the play with the fire. This report by Peter Buxbaum for the Security Network of Zurich University is over 4 years old and people talking about web 2.0 simply got stuck 5 years ago. Here on SFN is nothing rude, nothing to complain. Nobody is demanding so chop of someone else's head of to erect a "paradise for psychos" (caliphate). The problem why I got used to think twice before leaving any trace in cyberspace is the use of the functionalities of web 3.0 and its use by those who claim to spy on us for our own security. The important fact is, these "security" spy's are only reading what they want to read. They don't want to see topic in context. This is what damages this "freedom of speech". What better example you need to understand the inefficiency in the Hebdo case? Their offices had been burned down, they have had a bodyguard, a 48 years old gendarme, the "security" spy's have had the culprits for long in their records, they where even imprisoned. We have to be careful that our freedom of speech does not end up under the wheels of terror, sorrow, free-riding - and the dangers of over-reaction. Surly Europe's big problem with the violent Islamism will not disappear with populist calls for the end of the Schengen zone. The "political correctness" is already pain in the back ;-)

Hmmm. Terry said : "But freedom of speech is not, at least on SFN, to be construed as a freedom to be rude or to insult someone for no good reason. And it never will be."

The case in point, if I construe it correctly, was a troll spreading bait and successfully inducing folk to reply. There was no good reason for the troll to do this, but there were reasons that induced the replies, even though it's never wise to feed the trolls (says he, who managed to restrain his retorts to one only).

I have spent some time looking at international news, that is to say online papers and news services within my range of language skills in half a dozen countries. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre politicians are capitalising on the event and in the aftermath looking at security in the fight against terrorism. David Cameron in the UK is suggesting increased Internet 'snooping rights' and banning the use of encrypted data. That would mean changing, if not banning, Apple’s iMessage or Facebook’s WhatsApp, which I presume would mean confiscating all smart phones, hard disks and umpteen other bits of hardware before being able to begin to do that. Freedom of speech and privacy would be lost, hackers, spammers, phishers and whoever else had malice aforethought would be able to stroll into our bank accounts and so on and the terrorists they believe they would be fighting by seeing their electronic traffic would simply laugh themselves silly and find ways round it. They might, heaven forfend, even start meeting in public places where they would just blend in the masses and chat as though friends off for a coffee together. Other countries are less blatant than Cameron is being in the UK, but the trend is there and we can no doubt watch it grow.

Of course people will say it is Orwellian, '1984' in the forefront of their minds. I think it is more like something out of the dystopian novel 'We' by the Russian author living here in France Yevgeny Zamyatin, first published in 1921. Whatever the case, we here on SFN would live with the spectre of our every word being shadowed by security services. Some of our livelier debates might be scrutinised, even a few 'warnings' issued if they are judged to go too far. It is, amongst other more obvious reasons, precisely why I put up this topic - anticipating something of this nature entering the minds of the powers that be.

SFN does allow a very free discussion, be that debate or disagreement at times, but as Terry is saying, rightly intolerant of rudeness and insults with fair warning and sanctions whenever absolutely necessary. Nonetheless, we have a generally very free rein, which is not the case on some other social networks as people will know without names being used. If we wish to keep this ability to use our freedom of speech and expression, have our opinions included, discussed or reasonably debated then we need to very consciously defend the principle on which that exists. It does not require aggressive action, we are not cyber-terrorist, not even marches, secret meetings or anything as obviously provocative. We can all choose whether we agree or not with such measures to begin with, which some of us may. However, for those us who do not we might follow the example of UK members who are actively campaigning and writing to members of parliament and government institutions to protest about the winter fuel payment being stopped for UK citizens living in France. We have the tools in our hands; the freedoms we still possess that are going to be reduced or taken from us and the very means of communicating our opinions through the medium they wish to control.

Peter Bird wrote:

"In short, this network is encouraging freedom of speech."

"Excellent post, thought provoking without being too confrontational and I look forward to giving my views but.....the hypocrisy of the above statement and others in your text jump out of my screen and hit me full in the face. I will give my views on this topic when this forum reinstates the true values of free speech. A wrong has been committed, the freedom of speech has been denied a member of SFN for seemingly petty reasons. This wrong needs to righted or an explanation given until free thinking people such as myself may feel comfortable enough to contribute."

Peter, you're an intelligent guy and you know full well that we're not going to allow a public discussion of matters relating to specific members. For a start, it wouldn't be fair to the member concerned. If you want to take issue over what you clearly see as an injustice then click on the support link and state your case. That's what it's there for. We will listen to your views and you will get a reply. You say a wrong has been committed. But do you have all the facts on which to base that judgement?

And let's not confuse free thinking, which is basically just making up your own mind about what you believe concerning such things as religion, politics, social issues and so on, with the freedom to speak your mind.

There's a fine line to be drawn between what is and is not acceptable in the way of comment on SFN or anywhere else and it's not always easy to know where to draw it. But freedom of speech is not, at least on SFN, to be construed as a freedom to be rude or to insult someone for no good reason. And it never will be.

Thank you, Glenn Allsop, for your wise and calm words. Other contributors have made much of religious beliefs in this discussion, but although I am a practising Christian, I do not accept that the right to freedom of expression is linked to any particular faith [or indeed, as some atheists would have one believe, that such freedom is incompatible with any religious faith]. Having siad that, Jesus made it abundantly clear that He came to bring us freedom, which must include freedom of thought and expression. Unlike Islam, which sadly excludes to right to choose ones faith. Fortunately, most moderate muslims, especially those who live in Europe, are more than happy to accept that their freinds and neighbours may believe differently to them, and don't like them any the less for it. Conversely, yes there are extreme "Christian" groups in the Middle East [and even more so in USA] whio wish to quash free speech and even foment trouble, but they have no more to do with true Christianity than islamists do to true islam.

Je suis Chralie, aussi un juif, aussi Ahmed, aussi tous les gens partout dans le monde qui se trouvent persecutés, emprisonnés, supprimés...

Celeste, they would feed discontent by saying 'Told you so' or something equally trite. They, like all of us, had their time and once that passed they should take their place in history, end, over and out. Today we can only live in and for today, nostalgia does not put food on the table or run the vacuum cleaner. If it did then power would be very cheap, I suspect.

The "Christians" I was talking about are American fundamentalists. The West has its fair share of madmen!

Don't worry about terrorists. You have a 1 in 250 lifetime chance of dying in a road traffic accident.
Now there is a real cause for terror!

Celeste, there you see how words become distorted and mythologised. Powell was a classical scholar, as horribly narrow minded he was about the world, so he took a quote from the Sibyl prophesies in the Aeneid, written by Virgil, of 'wars, terrible wars, and the Tiber foaming with much blood.' He never said there would be blood on the streets of England. Read his closing words, citing the epic poem:

"As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see "the River Tiber foaming with much blood". That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal."

The media made the interpretation that is now so much quoted by those who oppose immigration, yet that was a speech early in 1968 that many of us protested about, but at the time never read into it anything about blood in any streets anywhere, the Tiber in Rome, which is a river and most certainly not a street in England. However, it is now part of the mythology of political predictions coming true although to compare 1968 and 2015 is nigh on impossible. Yet it is there and it is cited and badly repeated, but those who do so are usually no more than corrected occasionally but not forbidden to repeat it. That would be censorship I believe. That is the last any of us wish to see.

Yes, once upon the time the freedom of speech was even going so far that a then president claimed: 'God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq' so simple said: he was on a mission from God when he launched the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In this sense even mutual respect can back-fire in a world full of charli's...

just joking, good friendly reminder Brian

Phil H, did you have to change your nationality before being allowed to vote in The Isle of Man?
I think not.
The two cases are not the same, if we wish to remain British we stand to lose the right to vote after 15 years. Many of us have our pensions, that is our main financial interest in the UK and should not be denied the right to vote on which government will oversee that.