The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that the Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. However, even though the freedom of speech does not directly affect national security, some argue that in times of conflict, the government should limit the freedom of speech to protect the citizens more effectively (Bullock, Haddow, & Coppola, 2016). During wartime, the political and social views of the citizens usually become conflicting, and the people may express their unhappiness with the government’s actions.
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With the current power and scale of social networks, each message has a capacity to become viral and lead to protests that are a serious challenge for the law enforcement and national security. In this essay, I will argue for the curtailing of free speech during wartime, as I believe that uncensored exercise of free speech may limit the government’s capacity to protect the nation effectively.
First of all, it is clear that the current power and scale of social networks make them an essential part of most American’s lives. The vast majority of citizens are active internet users, with 68% of all U.S. adults using Facebook, 28% using Instagram, and 21% using Twitter (Greenwood, Parrin, & Duggan, 2016). The same social media platforms are used widely around the worlds, which creates foundations for international discussion of certain issues, including those of social and political nature.
These discussions are mostly beneficial and un-threatening in times of peace. However, during wartime, sharing certain types of information and expressing views on such a global platform may have severe implications. Messages on Twitter and Facebook have the potential to go viral, both in the United States and internationally. If the nature of the message is harmful to the government, it may cause an uproar among the public.
For instance, if users from other countries share false information regarding the actions of the United States military forces overseas, American people may start spreading the message on popular social media platforms, which will raise opposition against the government’s military efforts.
Another threat posed by the exercise of free speech comes from the news agencies and newspapers. News articles, online news sites, radio, and TV broadcasts are the main sources of information for the citizens of the United States. According to Mitchell, Gottfried, Marthel, and Shearer (2016), 99% of Americans obtain news from one of the platforms stated above. During wartime, the people’s interest in news is likely to increase dramatically, and the news becomes the primary source of knowledge.
Whereas media censorship would not allow valuable or incorrect information to be distributed to the masses, the journalists may use various persuasion techniques to convey their view on the issue, which is not always favorable to the government. Receiving biased information from the news, the people are sometimes unable to identify it as a single person’s opinion; instead, they see it as the truth. In essence, one powerful word used in a news article may change a regular person’s perception of the events, and this effect may become even more prominent during wartime when people feel threatened and are more susceptible to persuasion techniques.
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Generally, it is clear that a message shared by one person may influence the opinion of the public in a way that is bad for the government, but how does this affect the country’s national security? First of all, the information conveyed by the media and social networks shapes the people’s view of the government, as it influences their political views and involvement. Recent studies show that the impact of social media on the millennial generation is substantial (Fromm, 2016).
While in some cases this can be used in the government’s favor, this also poses a threat, if the information distributed by the media is harmful to the government’s image. One example of this effect is discussed by Shirky (2011). In 2001, during the impeachment trial of Philippine President Joseph Estrada, loyal voters in the Philippine Congress voted for him to remain in his position (Shirky, 2011). However, this decision has caused an uproar in the social media, prompting people to arrange a protest that included over a million people (Shirky, 2011). In three days, Joseph Estrada was impeached and the event “marked the first time that social media had helped force out a national leader” (Shirky, 2011, p. 1).
During wartime, the people’s response to perceived unfairness and injustice is likely to be even more prominent. Efforts to control the protests will require a considerable involvement of the national security forces, which will hurt its ability to respond to other threats.
Overall, I believe that curtailing the freedom of speech during wartime would allow the national security agencies to be more efficient in protecting the nation. Whereas imposing censorship on social media is a difficult task, it will prevent the people from spreading false or biased information that can impair the government’s image and cause protests that would have an adverse effect on the country’s national security and the ability of security forces to respond to other, more important threats.
Bullock, J. A., Haddow, G. D., & Coppola, D. P. (2016). Introduction to homeland security: Principles of all-hazards risk management (5th ed.). Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Greenwood, S., Perrin, A., & Duggan, M. (2016). Social media update 2016. Pew Research Center. Web.
Mitchell, A., Gottfried, J., Barthel, M., & Shearer, E. (2016). Pathways to news. Pew Research Center. Web.
Shirky, C. (2011). The political power of social media. Web.