The freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. What we say, why we say it and how is our individual and collective responsibility. We can communicate in more ways and more instantly than we have ever been able to in human history, however, the damaging and even tragic consequences of the words we use can be catastrophic. As 'adults' we set the example to our younger generations and so we must each and every one of us set the example and hold ourselves and each other to that as well. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and to share their thoughts and feelings but why and how we do that requires care and accountability too. Let's explore what that means...
The Dark Side Of Free Speech
When it comes to freedoms we are incredibly fortunate in the UK and other democratic countries. For a long time we have had the kinds of freedoms that billions of others in the world only dream about. This includes those in technologically and economically developed countries too, not just poor developing countries or non-western despotic regimes. In Russia, for example, though technologically advanced, is an autocracy where citizens who protest against the current war in Ukraine can face severe consequences just for speaking out and objecting to their government's actions. Some reports say protesters in Russia are potentially being sentenced for up to 15 years in jail as penalty for such an act of defiance. In such situations the fact people are still willing to use their voice against tyranny in spite of such potential punishment is greatly admired and seen as courageous.
At the same time, however, we are facing a different problem in this country and in many others around the world where the right to the freedom of speech and expression is taking an increasingly dark and deeply malicious tone. This is fuelled by the anonymity of online trolling and cyberbullying. It’s a problem that is causing significant levels of distress and suffering among many, including children who, in particular, are taking their own lives in increasing and concerning numbers. This is something 13 year old Megan Evans’s mother Nicola, who gave a heartbreaking interview to ITV’s This Morning in 2017 upon the death of her daughter to suicide at the hands of online cyber bullies, knows all too painfully well...
Megan’s tragic case shows just how possible it is to cause great harm to another without ever touching them or even being near them physically. Great harm can be caused just by killing their spirit, their feelings, their minds. As renowned psychiatrist M. Scott Peck said in his book People of the Lie:
“Evil is that which kills spirit. There are various essential attributes of life -- particularly human life -- such as sentience, mobility, awareness, growth, autonomy, will. It is possible to kill or attempt to kill one of these attributes without actually destroying the body. Thus we may "break" a horse or even a child without harming a hair on its head”.
Freedom Of Speech Doesn’t Mean Freedom Of Consequences
As Megan Evans’s tragic situation reveals, while we have the freedom of speech and freedom of expression in this country, it doesn’t come without responsibility because the freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom of consequences. As the problem of online hate and trolling increases in this country and around the world, governments are recognising the need to crack down on the wild abuse and misuse of speech online and in digital communications. In February of this year (2022) the UK government proposed stronger measures to deal with this increasing problem:
“Posting messages online which are “likely to cause harm” could be punishable by two years in jail under new “duty of care” offences signalled by the culture minister. Chris Philp said the offences, recommended by the Law Commission, were being “carefully considered” to criminalise online abuse.” - Charles Hymas, The Telegraph
Something that many likely don’t realise when writing away online, especially when feeling they are hidden behind the perceived safety of anonymity is the possible accountability for their actions. This doesn’t just include cases of explicit hateful speech, such as in the case of Jarod Kirkman, 51, who sent malicious messages to seven politicians and was sentenced to nearly 10 months in jail. Even indirect messages on third-party platforms can be prosecuted as Paul Bretherton, 48, a former Cheshire councillor found when he was sentenced for harassment of the then MP for Warrington North, Helen Jones.
Saying It’s ‘Just Your Opinion’ Doesn’t Make It OK Either
One of the most common abuses of free speech, we believe, comes through the claim that it’s 'just an opinion' someone is sharing about a situation or another person. Opinions are just that and they ought to remain as such. We all have a right to an opinion and there is nothing wrong with sharing an opinion and having something to say, including when that opinion is perhaps controversial and/or challenges the status quo. This is often what drives ideas and society forward. What crosses the line though, is when opinion is used as a veil or excuse to try and mask an intention to cause harm and/or damage to another person, a group of people or an organisation. It’s not just what we say, it is why and how we are saying it too. Saying things that are deliberately or intentionally damaging and harmful, hateful or malicious and doing so under the guise of sharing an ‘opinion’ does not make it OK!
So how do we tell the difference? The key is to look at three things:
The intention behind what is said
The methods in which it is being said/shared
The effects it is having; whether that is positive and upbuilding or negative and destructive
Whether it’s an opinion or not, it is what someone INTENDS to achieve through what they say that counts, as well as how they go about sharing that opinion and the actual effects of that on the other side. In a society that values and gives rights to everyone for free speech, trying to mask hate and malice and an intent to cause damage, harm or to destroy a person's wellbeing and character, under the label of 'opinion' shouldn’t be acceptable or exempt from accountability. It is everyone’s moral and ethical duty to police this online and offline, wherever we see or hear it being committed.
Sharing An 'Experience’ Or Your Side Of 'The Story' Isn’t Justification For Persistent Harassment
As well as the intention behind what someone says, it’s HOW they say it and also how often that is the next definitive factor! To make one negative, critical comment about someone else, another group or demographic of people is one thing and often bad enough in itself, but to say it again and again and again is another. This is why it’s so important to consider what the intention of a person or group’s use of free speech is, because when coupled with the tone in which it is said, the energy behind it AND how consistently it’s repeated these are the most damning factors that reveal an abuse of free speech. This is when an opinion about other people or an account of a situation regarding others, even if not explicitly offensive or aggressive, can cross a line to become bullying, trolling and/or harassment and we can see it in many different ways.
For example, it’s one thing to write a very negative review about a very poor experience visiting your local restaurant on a review site and sharing your valid opinion about it. Even going into depth and explaining what the experience was like as part of this too, as long as its balanced and fair, in order to emphasise this. But when that turns into an ongoing and consistent criticism and negative attack on that restaurant with post after post, comment after comment, with the deliberate intention of harming the business and the people who own and/or work at the restaurant and to cause them distress and put them out of business completely because of it, it becomes evident as something malicious, unlawful, illegal, immoral and unjust. Even worse is to then involve and encourage others to do the same, because they had a bad experience there or at other restaurants like it and they are still resentful about it, or they just love hating on people and so a mob mentality builds or what is called 'dogpiling'. Now it's no longer opinion or your 'experience', now it's a whole smear campaign of hate and malice, conducted individually or by a collective, where 'opinion' is now being used as a weapon, not for good upbuilding and positive outcomes, but for destructive ones.
We Are All Fallible And Have Bad Moments, It's How We Take Responsibility That Matters Most
We all have instances of saying negative, derogatory, perhaps nasty or even hateful things about someone else or a group of other people in the heat of the moment or when we were angry but later regret it and ideally apologise to make it right. I have certainly done this many times in my life and where I have needed to I have apologised and taken back what was said or expressed in reaction to something that triggered an irresponsible response. I have even said as much here when interviewed for this article regarding an ex-client of mine and something I wrote that I later regretted, did not condone and apologised for. None of us are saints, or angels with perfect character and track records of being without sin and without error in life. What matters though is how much we take responsibility for our actions and, not just our actions, but our intentions too in regards to the damaging and negative effects we may have caused others.
Judge Ourselves By Our Actions Too, Not Just Intentions
Something we are all guilty of is judging ourselves only by our intentions, yet judging others only by their actions and the effect they cause. For example, we might have done something bad ourselves but because we meant well when doing it we deem it to be acceptable. We minimise our responsibility, justify our actions and/or shift the blame to someone or something else because the intention was good in our eyes. the reason people do this is because it makes it less painful for us to accept our wrongdoing. However, when it comes to other people and their wrongdoings, we can tend to ignore or dismiss what that person or group’s intentions were, no matter how good, and focus only on their wrongdoing, or even just the perceived wrongdoing in their actions and what the actual/perceived negative effects of this are and judge them by that alone. In other words, they DID something wrong/bad, therefore they ARE bad, regardless of their intentions.
This is a common and prevalent double standard we can all be guilty of and so it takes focused levels of internal self-awareness and responsibility to correct that in us. The truth is we ought to judge and assess BOTH ourselves and others by BOTH the intention and the action itself, as well as the effect, in order to get a whole and fair assessment of the situation. If the intention is bad/damaging and the action is bad/damaging and the effects are bad/damaging, that is malicious and destructive and accountability needs to be direct and firm. We can all be guilty of doing harm at times, intended and not, but doing so deliberately, in a consistent way that is harmful in its effects, no matter how much we try to dress it up, is always wrong.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” ~ Aristotle
Freedom of Speech Comes With Responsibility
So when it comes to how we express ourselves and how we engage with other human beings, especially while we are fortunate enough to have the rights to express ourselves and speak freely as we are in the UK and other democratic countries, we must do so responsibly, with the right intentions. And when we hold ourselves and others accountable, we must do so fairly, not just for what we say, but WHY we say it and HOW we say it too, along with the effect our words might have had as a result. And where we make mistakes and we get things wrong, we must take responsibility for that. We must repent with contrition and pay penance, in other words to pay the prices in making amends and putting things right with those we wronged, including ourselves.
How do we know if we are holding someone accountable in the right way? Here's an interaction from Twitter between Lighthouse Associate Partner, Mel Francis and our Chairman, Paul Waugh, discussing this very question...
There Is No Future In Hate
These are key lessons we have been learning at Lighthouse over the course of a year of facing consistent and non-stop criticism, cynicism, hateful and malicious trolling via sites like Reddit. This is being carried out by a relatively small number of ex-clients and a motley gang of others who are resentful of the organisation for different reasons but with no direct contact or experience of working with Lighthouse. All of these people have consistently and repetitively claimed only to be sharing ‘opinions’ and ‘experiences’ in relation to Lighthouse International Group. The claims they make are generally and almost unreservedly one-sided (anti-Lighthouse), biased, prejudiced forms of subjective accusations that are constantly repeated points and conspiracy theories without substance or proof, beyond mere hearsay that resound within an online echo-chamber.
From this there have been numerous instances and examples of personal attacks on myself and others involved here with the clear intention to assassinate our characters and wellbeing and to defame Lighthouse International Group through that. Some of those they have targeted at Lighthouse are parents of children who have been affected by the posts and lies being said about their parents, who have themselves at times been stressed. This is their livelihood after all and they need to provide for their children.
What we have seen is not the simple sharing of an "opinion", it is relentless trolling. It is not the innocent sharing of experiences, it is a coordinated smear campaign cowardly conducted from behind pseudonyms. These are not mature and emotionally responsible adults as these examples of their different styles of posts show in a previous article. Senior and professional people with senior mindsets don't act this way. You will not find CEOs spending their valuable time on Reddit posting rambling posts under a pseudonym and if you do they won't last long. Business leaders like the Bill Gates' and the Jeff Bezos' of this world don't solve their problems this way. Genuine activists and thought leaders like Candace Owens and Jordan Peterson don't hide their identities when they stand up to others. Even controversial people like Donald Trump post to social media under their true identities.
This is very junior behaviour (I am trying to avoid using the word 'childish'). These are not people with genuine and honest concerns, complaints and issues who are seeking to find fair and just resolutions. If they were they would be out in the open campaigning against us with honour and integrity. This is tabloid gutter level mentality and behaviour which is why the Daily Mail was happy to print their claims whilst taking no responsibility for the claims themselves. No. These are not reasonable and rational people who are willing to sit down and debate across the table and be willing to accept if, where and when they are wrong.
To quote one of the posts regarding this groups' supposed intentions for Lighthouse:
"We are going to utterly destroy any shred of credibility or reputation they have remaining. And that won't last long. We are going to own LIG." - Impossible-change488
When the intentions behind someone’s speech and how they express their opinions or share about their experiences are clearly meant to harm and break others down and the methods they employ to do so are in line with such intentions, it is an abuse of free speech and must be held accountable. This is what millions of people are going through and being subjected to online the world over and they will all recognise this for what it is. It has to be called out and it has to be stopped. There must be consequences, especially where the damaging and harmful effects on their targets, perhaps even tragic ones, as in Megan Evans’ case, are evident as a result.
There is simply no future in hate. The harmful and damaging or even fatal effects and consequences of hate speech and action don’t ever just affect those they are aimed at. They harm and break down those committing such things too, just as much if not more, no matter how good and right someone might believe they are.
Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." ~ Buddha
34% of kids in the US have experienced cyberbullying at least once.
Victims of cyberbullying are 1.9 times more likely to commit suicide.
68% of children that have gone through online harassment have experienced mental health issues.
71% of survey participants don't feel like social platforms are doing enough to fight the problem.
Internet trolls are most active on social media. 38% observe trolling behaviour on such platforms, while 23% have seen them frequently 'operate' on video sharing websites.
From those bullied in the last year, 37% developed social anxiety while 36% fell into depression.
Online abuse and suicidal thoughts are directly interconnected. 24% have contemplated suicide after continuous cyberbullying.
Free Speech Requires Responsibility & Honour
We at Lighthouse International Group don’t deny anyone the right to criticise us as an organisation or as individuals. We would be the first to admit we have made and do make legitimate mistakes; sometimes big ones. We do get things wrong and we appreciate being held accountable (fairly and justly), so we can improve and make things right. That’s part of being human and imperfect, as every single person on the planet is. What we do insist on for everyone though, is the right to an open and responsible discourse with proper moral and ethical standards of attitude and behaviour in which to work out any grievances and/or issues people may have with us rationally and maturely; as adults ought to. This means a discourse where everyone's identity on both sides is known and not hidden so that true accountability to what is said, why it is said and how it is said is possible at all times. Everyone deserves this.
Writing cynical, hateful, biased and prejudiced statements and harassing people through consistent and persistent abuse online, from the shadows of internet forums; cloaked in anonymity without risk to one’s identity or reputation, whilst proclaiming one’s virtues and righteousness is not honourable. It’s cowardly. No reasonable discourse is possible with people who choose such methods and whose intentions are not focused on resolution but on doing as much harm and damage as they can. These are the kinds of people who will smile at you in the street or on the office floor, even chat with you positively, but who will murder your character and reputation as much as possible behind your back if they fall out with you or decide they have something against you.
I have used our experiences with people online as a reference because these are what is most relevant to us here at Lighthouse right now, as an example of these issues. The abuse of free speech is a much larger and increasing problem for everyone in this country though; for parents concerned about their children using social media, for companies and people inside and outside of their organisations, for people in the public eye, for anyone who can be affected online or offline by hate and resentment inflicted on them by the abuse of free speech in the name of having an opinion or sharing their story/experience.
We are not these helpless victims. We are a family and we are stronger than ever. We use this website as a means to give our voice a platform and to use the experiences we have been going through as examples that can help others in the same or similar situations. We have been patient, and shown much leniency in giving these people time to have their say, but it is not just their say that they want, they want to break down and destroy. And so we must defend ourselves, we must stand up to lies defamation and hate and call it out. But when we eventually hold people accountable through a legally consulted process we are called narcissists, aggressors, abusers and even blackmailers! This is what we are dealing with.
What we will at least credit is that, after a year, a very small few recently came out and made themselves known publicly through the press (Daily Mail) while the rest watched on from behind their anonymous curtain. We respect this to a point because at least now we can enter into a genuine legal process of holding these individuals legally accountable, as we are doing. It will take time as we seek criminal penalties before those that are civil, but the wheels are in motion and we hope to help many others achieve justice by learning from our lessons in future.
Don’t Suffer In Silence Join Our Groundswell Of Campaigns
If you have been subject to trolling, bullying, verbal hate or any other abuse of language in the past, or if it’s happening to you now, don’t stand for it, stand up for yourself. You aren't alone, we have a community here that can all get behind you and support you. Feel free to ask us if you need any help and let us know if you want to be involved, we have various campaigns we are running in line with holding people accountable for trolling, harassment, bullying, cyberbullying and much more through Parents Against Trolls and Business Against Trolls.
If you have had unsubstantiated, untrue, misleading, libellous, deliberately sensationalised articles written against you in the press and feel you have no power or resources to legally fight back or gain a retraction - join our campaign to hold such trashy unprofessional journalists and press organisations to account for making things right where they have lied and defamed others for their profit. Help us put an end to any and all such 'reporting'. You can read more about our thoughts on this here.