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What are the disadvantages of freedom of expression?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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According to the Law Dictionary, freedom of expression is the right to say what you want through any media, as long it doesn't harm the "character of reputation" of another individual. Freedom of expression is protected in the U.S. by the first amendment.

Especially with the rise of the internet, freedom of expression may allow for the easy spread of false information or lies. One example is the idea that vaccines lead to autism, a piece of misinformation that is dangerous and yet does not harm the character of any particular person. While it might be protected speech, it is untrue and can lead to unvaccinated children getting or transmitting preventable diseases.

Further, freedom of expression can often lead to defamation of character. Though perpetrators may later be forced to retract their statements, the damage may already have been done.

Freedom of expression protects speech that some argue can incite physical violence against other groups, such as hate speech towards an ethnic group leading to killing members of that group or violent pornography encouraging violence against women. 

Freedom of expression creates its own paradox: a society doesn't truly have freedom of speech if people are not allowed to make assertions that are distasteful or unpopular to the bulk of the population, yet these statements can be hurtful to others. 



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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One disadvantage of freedom of expression can be the potential for a harmful impact on other people.

People can often confuse freedom of expression with being able to say and believe anything.  Freedom of expression is perceived to be limitless.  Those who zealously embrace see it as a means to say whatever they wish. People who ardently embrace freedom of expression for their own purposes might forget that their expressions have an impact on other people. Freedom of expression can allow some people to overlook the consequences of thought and action.  

In some cases, freedom of expression might be dangerous.  For example, the ability to freely express one's thoughts can result in targeting an individual or another group of people.  People who enjoy harassing or bullying another person can say that they are simply "expressing their thoughts" and that it is their right to do so.  Freedom of expression can also be used to target groups of people.  A historical example of this is seen in groups like the Ku Klux Klan. They use freedom of expression as a shield for their thoughts.  When questioned, they will claim that they are simply freely expressing their own beliefs.  In this example, freedom of expression can be seen as disadvantageous.

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