Does free speech exist in the UK?

After a man has been charged over an offensive tweet about Captain Tom Moore, does free speech still exist in the UK?

Erika Armanino
16th March 2021
Image: Fukt on Flickr
A 35-year-old faces up to six months of jail or a fine of maximum £5000 after posting an offensive tweet about the deceased Captain Sir Tom Moore. The fact brings to the surface many questions about whether free speech truly exists in the UK. 

The Human Rights Act 1998 states “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

“The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

UK citizens are allowed to express their opinions and ideas in their country but this could be subject to restrictions. Can free speech coexist with restrictions? 

On one hand, restrictions are in place to maintain order in a democratic society, protecting the individuals from offensive and violent comments, and it is agreed that democracy couldn’t exist without any rigid rules.

On the other hand, isn’t a restriction not freedom of speech anymore? If you’re limited on what you’re allowed to say, that is no longer free speech.

In the last decade millions of public debates have been held online and this has brought up many problematics about social media and free speech. Social media has always been a sharing point for millions of people, but they also showed their dark sides on different occasions. With social media, users are able to hide themselves from the consequence of their words, but what they don’t realise is that free speech does not really exist on these platforms. When registering an account on a social media platform you’re forced to agree to the terms and conditions, including the content you’re allowed to share and the content you’re not.

All the UK operators now voluntarily filter content by default and when users try to access blocked content they are redirected to a warning page. 

Free speech is a very slight term that can be interpreted in many different ways, but the only opinion that really counts is the one of the country you live in. Simply put, you’ve got no choice. If you want to follow democratic rules you’ve got no choice but agree with conditions of free speech.

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