Appreciate Your Free Speech Rights on Social Media


Mert Erenel, Staff Writer

We are currently in a setting of political divide. It’s not shocking that the relationship between liberals and conservatives has been severed with a president that becomes more controversial by the day. New political movements such as the Alt-right are surging with provocative figures such as Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopoulos and Steve Bannon, while left-wing organizations such as “Antifa” counter conservative movements with their own extreme approaches. These are mere examples of the degree to which our political climate has polarized and should not be a reflection of the average American citizen on both political sides. These movements do, however, reflect the fact that our political climate has become intense and heated up.

On social media, it’s easy for us to spout our dislike for those on the opposing side of the political spectrum. We can go on for hours debating someone on Facebook, writing paragraph length posts on how terrible the government is or simply throw out an F-bomb to President Donald Trump on Twitter. And this can all be done without the slightest worry of legal penalty. Many young Americans take that for granted. In countries like Turkey, you don’t just lose your job if you criticize the government, you may also go to prison and have your life ruined.

In Turkey, for example, there can be far greater repercussions for speaking out against the government on social media. Itir Esen was 18 when she won Miss Turkey 2017. She would later represent Turkey in the Miss World competition and from there, would go on to start a career in modelling. Maybe, just like many other winners of Miss Turkey, she could have become a famous actress like her aunt. But all of those possibilities ended when her crown was revoked over a tweet regarding a 2016 failed government coup attempt. The primary problem is the fact that the Istanbul Anadolu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office wants to indict Esen for up to one year in prison for “publicly insulting a segment of the public based on social class, race, religion, sect, gender or regional differences.” This is an example of a country that has lost tolerance for even minor aggressions against national identity and authority.

Yes, the tweet may as well be insulting and disrespectful. But does it really warrant legal penalty, and even if so, is a bad tweet really deserving of punishment in jail?

Think of all the tweets of celebrities and politicians in support of National Football League players bending the knee during the American national anthem, Facebook posts of photos in support of the American ag burning, memes or jokes against political figures, both current and historical ones. The abundance of these on social media in the United States is an example of the degree to which the First Amendment allows its citizens to use such a platform without the fear of legal persecution neither from state nor federal levels of government. For others, this may be seen as a natural fundamental right; for me, it is a privilege that I wish not to lose.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this appeared in the Monday, January 22 print edition. Email Mert Erenel at [email protected].