I wonder if the right to freedom of speech is becoming functionally obsolete. If you break it into its parts and examine it, there isn’t much to it anymore.
For example, as I have blogged before, if you criticize your government in any public way, it’s bad for your business because all of the people who hold opposing viewpoints will prefer to take their money and job offers elsewhere. In most cases the threat of economic loss controls individuals from piping up too often. Every now and then you get a Joe the Plumber who can make some money off of speaking up, but it’s rare.
There are plenty of professional pundits who will happily take sides on TV, radio, blogs, in newspapers, and in books. But most consumers of such opinions are true believers of one side or the other. Freedom of speech is somewhat useless if all it does is reinforce your existing viewpoints. And if all the media serves to do is give you a steady stream of biased information, it’s functionally useless.
Assuming my enlightened readers are intellectual mavericks who sample the opinions from all sides, the Internet is making freedom of speech obsolete for you. And by that I mean there is no point in having a right allowing something that can’t be stopped. It would be like banning gravity. For the true seeker of knowledge, the Internet allows one to find all variety of opinions, ranging from wisdom to fabrication. The law couldn’t stop it if it tried.
Some countries censor their media and try to censor their Internet. I have to assume censoring the Internet can’t work in the long run. There will be too many workarounds and too many criminals to prosecute. Those countries will learn that it is easier to control the information at the source than to control the media. As long as there are pundits willing to get paid for spreading the government’s agenda there will be enough public doubt to keep revolution from happening. America leads by example in that department. (I can say that without repercussion because it isn’t party-specific.)
Freedom of speech goes beyond criticizing the government. It also includes censorship of art deemed obscene. But in time the Internet will make that a meaningless right. Everyone will have instant access to any art or images they want.
This leaves us with the right to burn a flag or the right for special interest groups to donate money for campaigns. In 500 years no one but historians will remember that those rights sprang from the by-then-obsolete notion of freedom of speech.