Free Speech Week was two weeks ago, and I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how great a privilege free speech really is.
But the more I contemplate it, the more a certain phrase keeps popping into my head—just because I can doesn’t mean I should.
And with so many outlets for free expression today (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, tumblr), it’s easier than ever for one to express their opinion on a whim without careful consideration of the broader scope of their actions.
A friend of mine recently showed me a music video on YouTube called “Throw that Bitch a Bagel (Bitches Love Bagels)” by Deuce Deuce, a band that has performed several times on Butler University’s campus.
Some of my female friends expressed a sense of personal offense taken from the video and its lyrics like “Bitches love floor sex / Bitch you gettin’ blown out / And we ain’t even keepin’ score yet.”
Josh Whitaker, a member of Deuce Deuce and a Butler student, explained that the song wasn’t meant as offensive and involved inside jokes.
“It’s about me, just a kid doing something I love doing, with a sense of humor that not everyone agrees with,” Whitaker said. “But I don’t expect everyone to laugh at my jokes.”
Having only come across the video by accident, I had no idea there was subtext to the song, so I initially had to take it at face value.
I’m not easily offended by things, so the song didn’t upset me. It was more funny than anything and employed remarkably high quality video production.
However, free expression involves both the expresser and the audience, and any expression, especially artistically, is subject to personal interpretation and potential controversy.
A blogger or YouTube user might not consider the fact that they are a representation of their community. They might overlook that just because they’re trying to appeal to a certain group of people doesn’t mean that someone else might see what they post.
Just because I have the means to express myself doesn’t mean that every thought I have needs to be expressed—I realize the irony of saying this in an opinion article.
Responsible free expression considers the consequences before blogging. It takes into account the audience, both intended and unintended, before posting a video. It accurately expresses the author’s thoughts and intentions while acknowledging potential alternative interpretations, positive and negative.
Whether it’s entertainment or discourse, responsible free speech requires that an author convey their thoughts clearly, or be willing to handle the consequences of misinterpretation. Conversely, a responsible audience should seek to understand the author’s true intention.
Being able to express oneself is great. We shouldn’t ignore the right to express ourselves. But taking it for granted is just as ignorant as not using it at all.
People need to find a responsible balance. Think before you speak.
Just because you can express something doesn’t mean you should.