Communication and technology

Ferris faculty member, students discuss freedom of speech in the digital age

People no longer have to personally connect with others; they are connected through social media in an instant, throughout the entire world.

Jimmie Joseph, Ferris assistant professor in the College of Business, explained how the digital age changed the way freedom of speech is interpreted during a panel discussion. Approximately 80 students attended the two hour discussion on Sept. 17.

When communication is mediated, users have a tendency be less inclined to impose limits on their speech. In other words, people don’t hold back and say what they want to say.

Joseph raised many ethical questions on freedom of speech in the digital age, especially regarding how technology has changed the way people interact with one another.

“Now, you can stay in contact with friends from home, and you don’t have the same pressure to actually talk to people, to actually make new friends, and there is so much stratification given the digital world that you could be on Facebook or in a forum with people who think exactly like you do,” Joseph said.

In the midst of the digital age, having connections worldwide can create problems. Joseph asked the audience if a company should be able to fire its employees based on a tweet. Students were divided on the answer. He explained how a recent chief technology officer was fired after making racist, homophobic and sexist tweets.

Joseph compared taking technology away from college students to taking away drugs from an addict. After a few days, both the students and the addicts would experience withdrawal. Joseph believes college students are intensely addicted to technology.

The panelists discussed that students no longer talk at the beginning of class because they are tweeting, posting and texting. They have seen students text other students in the class.

“People text each other a lot more than actually talking,” Nick Chatman, Ferris junior psychology major said.

Before technology, the coliseum gathered the largest crowd in its time: 50,000 people.

“You can’t get a TV show if you only reach 50,000,” Joseph said. “You may not even be able to get an Internet podcast if you only reach 50,000. Now, it’s about reaching the entire planet.”

Joseph discussed that not many people think about what they respond to or post online today.

“Everything you post online now is like a tattoo, it’s not coming off, you can’t take it back,” Joseph said. “In an age of cell phone cameras, Twitter and Facebook, people don’t forget anymore.”

Years ago, Joseph explained, how someone could take back what they said by simply saying, “you must have misunderstood me.” Today, technology documents everything that is posted, blogged, videotaped or captured in some way.

Many actors and athletes are no longer allowed to manage their own social media accounts in case they say something they shouldn’t. Joseph explained the voiceover man for the “Aflac” duck posted demeaning tweets about Japan and the tsunami and was fired the very same day.

Freedom of speech no longer protects an individual when there is deliberate intent to harm someone.

Joseph explained that the government can interfere with freedom of speech. A video of a man confessing to a murder was arrested after the government found the video. Another man posted videos of himself growing weed. The government was able to find and arrest him.

“One of the biggest issues of freedom of speech is that governments know what you said,” Joseph said. “Governments can find you and you can’t take it back. The government does use what you say against you if you post a video confessing to a criminal act.”

Freedom of speech goes a long way in the digital age discussed Joseph.

“The fact that you are free to speak, does that mean someone else is obligated to listen?” Joseph said.