Freedom of Speech – Language and Modern Warfare

By Haleema Khalid

Freedom of speech—the right to express views without government restraint is a democratic ideal in practice since the ancient Greek period. The ancient Greek word “parrhesia” which presumably appeared in Greek literature for the first time at the end of fifth century B.C., denotes to ‘free speech’ or to ‘speak candidly’.

During the classical period, it has been considered a central part of Athenian democracy. Open discussions have been carried out on religion and politics by the leaders, philosophers, playwrights and common Athenians. Moreover, in some settings, Government has also been criticized.

Considering present day freedom of speech and its role in modern warfare in terms of cognitive manipulation through media by streamlining the discourses not supported by the ‘correct facts’; this practice contributes to narrative formation by employing propaganda. This is being done by exploiting language use.

Along these lines, language weaponization takes place in the social media space in conjunction with the use of technology, artificial intelligence and cyber propaganda as instruments of strategy, which has been observed as a recent phenomenon to streamline designed cognitive deception.

This can be considered in view of Kurt Lewin’s Life Space Theory which comprises the individual and his psychological or behavioral environment as facts that affect the behaviour or thoughts of the individual at a certain point in time. Since globalisation has engaged the nation-states at all levels of interaction in the social hierarchy, media has become the driving force of the global society.

Years ago, Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir, through the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis, discussed linguistic manipulation in relation to the cognitive aspects of language use and the way it is being interpreted by the receiver. However, nowhere in the world freedom of speech is boundless.

In the United States, the First Amendment guarantees free speech, though the United States, like all modern democracies, places limits on this freedom. In a series of landmark cases, the U.S. Supreme Court over the years has helped to define what types of speech are—and are not—protected under U.S. law.

In Pakistan, disinformation/fake news in the name of free-speech is becoming a stimulus, inciting internal conflicts. For instance, the prevalent tactics are constructing ‘frames of reference’ and ‘narratives’ streamlining and prioritizing rather passive and pessimistic projections by presenting issues more than solutions concerning mainly the domestic state of affairs.

In Pakistan’s socio-political setting, this can be determined in view of the absence of the ‘fact-checkers’ in the Pakistani newsrooms. Moreover, lack of objectivity and ‘hint-dropping’ practices quoting ‘sources’ have been observed to be contributing to the socio-cognition of the audience.

Similarly, the role of masses cannot be excluded in this process. With easy excess to social media, a frequent downpour of disinformation/misinformation may help to construct certain ‘frames of reference’, which if ascertained in some way or another in the context of developing events, attract support.

In this way, certain influences can be asserted by such trends in the social media space. Along these lines, electronic media gets affected and becomes a key player in constructing narratives by popularizing trendy discourse in social media. In consequence, media in general and social media in particular ultimately contribute to the construction of the ‘narratives’ of uncertainty, frustration, and confusion among the masses. This is threatening in the backdrop of national security because of the fact that social media played a significant role to involve people in the mass protests of 2019 around the globe.

Therefore, the adoption of a legal standpoint and a policy to standardize language-use in media need to be considered. Likewise, the initiation of a solution-based discourse centralizing Pakistan’s potential must be encouraged realizing the impact of linguistic manipulation, alongside its impact on psychological and social conduct.

References:

  1. https://strafasia.com/of-words-media-and-psychological-warfare-challenges-for-pakistan/
  2. https://www.britannica.com/topic/freedom-of-expression
  3. https://www.history.com/topics/united-states-constitution/freedom-of-speech

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