Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Free Speech Can Pay a Hefty Price

The Perez incident made me think about this whole deal a lot more. Besides the mini-altercation between the two parties, it’s also an issue about bloggers running too wild in the name of free speech. Many argue that they can say whatever they want and this is true. But what happens when you cross a line between free speech and decency.

I hate how the culture now gives people a voice to say whatever they want with no responsibility – all in the name of free speech. Go to any message board or gossip site and you’ll see some of the most reckless things said. People hide behind free speech and expect nothing to happen because of that . Legal protection and real–life protection are two different things.

An example: Go to a bar and insult somebody the worst way possible. Technically that’s free speech what you said and if you get a swift beatdown as a result, it’s not the guy’s fault who hit you. You put yourself in that situation and you shouldn’t be mad someone took you out of it with violence. Better example: Go to a gang territory and start challenging people to a fight. Same result. They deserve consequences too for their actions, but you are not completely innocent either.

Free speech has consequences that you better be prepared to deal with. When I decided to start blogging, I knew good and well that my views were going to be on display for everyone to see it. It’s the Faustian deal I made when I started E-TV and I accept that. I’m going to express my views and say whatever I want – but at the same time, I’m going to be responsible and not violate your readership by being reckless with it. You may not disagree but if I get your respect, that’s what matters.

Perez Hilton and his ilk don’t write for respect, they write for attention. They aren’t like the blogs on my roll call or other respectable writers – they’ll deliberately hurt feelings/ruin careers for the sole purpose of their agenda. If we hurt feelings, it’s unintentional (most of the time) - we write to express ourselves, not cause unnecessary feuds.

There a difference between criticism and hate. Criticism is sharing your honest opinion that is well-backed up. You don’t dislike someone or something for no reason. That’s not how writers/critics/bloggers should operate. I know people think it’s easy to get on a computer and type what you feel, but there’s rules to this blogging ish – there’s a difference between critique and blind hate.

Words have tremendous power. If they didn’t, I’d be doing another career instead of journalism and I wouldn’t be blogging. The old mantra of “sticks and stones” was nice when we were kids, but the written/spoken word can make a far greater impact. Consider how people still draw inspiration from books like the Bible (almost 2,000 years old), the Koran, Shakespeare and Homer – do you think hateful speech can’t make just the same impact over time?

This is my issue with Perez Hilton, what he stands for in pop culture and hope that other bloggers take heed. Hilton does do both (as well as report gossip) but his negative tactics overshadow his personal tastes. He doesn’t care about the impact of what he does and he’s racked up quite a few enemies. Same with TMZ – whatever good they do, it’s overshadowed by their negative actions.
In essence it’s journalism ethos of getting a story without its ethics. That’s why they cannot be surprised when someone reacts negatively because when you push buttons, you’ll eventually push the wrong one.Pushing buttons works when it gets to the truth of the matter. Not when it's done for its own sake.

We use free speech to our benefit but sometimes we fail to understand the implications that brings. If you ran your mouth, you better be ready to take that race all the way. It’s advice that we all need to hear.

There are lessons to be learned from this situation between Perez and and his manager. Words have power and cannot be used like your toys with no regard for what they can do. Yes, this was an extreme situation but how many lives have been impacted by mere words.

Think before you speak. Words we heard as kids but in the name of internet freedom, we tend to forget that our words can be boomerangs and bite us when it returns.


  1. Agreed. It's a shame there isn't a law that requires us to think before we open our mouths. It started out with the little kid on the playground being bullied for his speech impediment. No it's all about the bully calling him names. Now he's picked on someone his size and gotten punished.

    Perez Hilton scares me. For real. I seriously hope people don't let him represent other people who blog, much less journalist who actually cover important issues.

  2. Well said Steven. He's somebody who has a powerful voice and now understands the price of using it inappropriately. We can all learn from this situation - liking somebody is not the problem, its how you carry it out.