The anti-social exploits of Trolls and Cyberbullies are an unsavoury reality of our digital age and increasingly, Trolls and Cyberbullies hide behind the term ‘Freedom of Speech’ as a kind of blanket argument in defence of their vitriolic communications. But bullying, trolling and harassment is not ‘free speech’, it is an attack on Free Speech. It is an impediment to meaningful dialogue; it silences people and subverts true and open communication; it inhibits people from ‘speaking freely’ and it is currently dictating the parameters of our online social environment, compounded by the lack of accountability anonymity affords.

When one considers it in another context, supposing that Freedom of Speech can exist without qualifying the quality of that speech is rather absurd; imagine for a moment if ‘Freedom of Movement’ were a buzz term. Imagine if somebody argued that they should be able to move their body in any way they wished, unrestricted and with a total lack of restraint. Would that then mean they had the right to punch another in the face because they felt like expressing their right to make a fist and hurl it through the air? Would it mean they should have the right to pick up a weapon and wield it as they wished?

Does this seem like an extreme analogy? It is time we stop being naïve to the fact that words can smash us no different to a punch thrown. It is time to realize that the way we wield words is a responsibility worth discussing. Afterall, we live in a world where people are being hospitalized from the poison that is allowed to run rampant in social media, teens are taking their own lives after being gang cyberbullied on Facebook and Twitter. Hundreds of innocent people have been ostracized and their livelihoods affected by harassment and hate-mongering online, all carried out in the name of ‘Free Speech’.

It is not to say that opinions can’t be voiced or that debate can’t be colourful. But we can be direct and make a point without being inciteful, hateful and demeaning, so why are we arguing to protect this ‘right’ for people?

To communicate respectfully with one and other online and off benefits everyone. Enabling people who abuse and misuse their anonymity online to aggressively target innocent people is something we must collectively put a stop to. The health and wellbeing of our communities depends upon it.

Please join us for our inaugural conference:

Cyber-harassment in our communities:

Addressing public safety in the digital age.

Speakers from across the country will discuss how we might make much needed change to deal with these important issues. All are welcome and entry is free. For more information and to register see the conference page.