Defamation online vs free speech?

An article/blogpost that falsely claimed that the swedish politician Björn Fries had died spread online in early October. The text violated his personal integrity and accused Fries, who for decades has been engaged with the struggle against racism and right-wing movements, for being a druguser and that an overdose had supposedly killed him. It continues with several fabricated stories, blatant lies and violations of Fries, who in turn chose to report the matter. The other week we learned that the head prosecutor decided not to start a preliminary investigation but close down the case, based on an argument that nothing significant public or private interest are disregarded by not opening a preliminary investigation.


In an era of intense debate about people’s ethical and moral conduct in relation to Internet and free speech, this decision is not only surprising but utterly unreasonable. Free speech, our constitutionally protected freedom of speech, is not only abused by individuals but they are also offered to continue by the same system of law that is set to defend it.


Additionally, the safeguarding of personal integrity is neglected.


This case is basically a question on what the legal system, through the perspective of constitutional law and freedom of speech, is most willing to protect? In current legal texts concerning defamation it is stipulated that you must not disseminate information about a person at risk of subjecting that person to other people’s “disrespect” (swedish ”missaktning”, no matter the forum (internet or physical reality). Opinions on Internet are as protected under constitutional free speech as opinions expressed in any public place.


The problem with the legislation is that it has not (yet) taken into account the ”digital tail” following harassment through Internet, such as propagation rate, vulnerability and the difficulty of protecting the individual’s private sphere and integrity. Current legislation is not sufficient (which has been illustrated through several verdicts in similar cases during the last year).


It is obvious to agree on the importance of our freedom of expression both regarding the physical world and an Internet forum. But it is not acceptable that we have in 2013 have a legislation, in which we build our trust and state legitimacy on, that completely ignores aspects such as rate of spread and consequences for individual integrity and privacy that strategic abuse of free speech online may result in.


It is a frequent argument that new regulations and legislative measures takes a long time to implement and that technological development by its nature will always be ahead of proposed regulations around it. Perhaps that is true. But there is no end in itself that the system of law, ie. the state, should be the leading factor or the institution that should tame and stay ahead of technological development. The fact that our legislative institution must seriously begin working to update an admittedly noble but far too obstructive law around defamation online, does not mean that we are to put faith in that the state should tell citizens how technology and Internet may and should be used. It is still a matter of actual utterances and expressions of individuals, human action grounded in concepts like ethics and morality, however, in this case also the aftermath when located and spread online. We have a tendency to overlook this when we quickly become immersed in discussions about technology as either a tool or a barrier for democracy.


We live in a society where technological innovation is leading the way and where we have the freedom to use technology in ways that benefit society. But when that freedom is abused, as in the case above of the supposed death of the very living Fries, the legal system should and must be there for the individual and strongly protect what is the mainstay of our democratic society, namely the personal integrity.


The fact that the head prosecutor didn’t even consider the case worth trying makes it difficult to see how we can get anywhere on this issue. It is precisely through the effort of trying a case that we can challenge the prevailing system.

Religion vs. science – the interest for philosophy

Later this week I will give lectures on contemporary philosophy and theories of science and knowledge. This steps away from the more media- and sociological centered theoretical arguments that my teaching often consists of. However I find it very vibrant to work through disciplines, transgressing boundaries of human and social sciences. The common foundation in scientific theory for both these paradigms/traditions can actually be traced back to ancient and later modern philosophy and ideas on the existence of truth, faith and knowledge. And as a matter of fact, about two years ago I started doing research and writings on this subject, mostly as a leisure acitivity, and my interest for it has sustained and hopefully helped me through different intellectual endeavors ever since. My purpose with these writings is to explain and suggest bridges between the philosohical arguments of especially the Enlightenment period, and our present experience of social phenomenon. In other words I try to provide illustrative answers to the question of what theory has to do with reality (something that many of us are struggling to comprehend).


One of the main dilemmas I am interested in, is the relation between religion and science. The conflict between the two holds an enormous historical heritage and is still one of the major dilemmas of human kind and our existence. The dimensions of this conflict include concepts of morality, ethics, knowing, truth, faith and knowledge (all central concepts of especially the Enlightenment period in western Europe). Dealing with these concepts are not easy, but certainly stimulating.


What is for example man’s true knowledge of things and the nature of the self? How does it correspond to what we think we know something about? Fascinating questions – both existential and concrete. There must of course be a point of reference to this form of philosophical input and to one of the ultimate dilemmas to science and theory of knowledge. It is within this dilemma that all directions and traditions in modern philosophy to some extent actually begins. The paradigm of nature sciences has by definition been interested in the conceptualization of the objects that constitute the world itself. The desire to describe these objects true being, as they really are, all under the superior patronage from the concept of objectivity, has in my opinion marked the history and shaped the modern way of thinking. And I can’t explain why, but it aggregates an interest; a keen interest to explore, elaborate and write about these issues. Especially the ever lasting question whether or not religion and science can be combined and nurture each other. I spend a great deal of time to read contributions of Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Newton, Hobbes and Pascal, and their respective handling of this dilemma. Maybe one could go so far to say that their way to deal with and handle this question, marks their heritage, their place in modern history. At least I choose to ascribe this question that type of significance.


Hopefully I can mediate my curiosity in the classroom as well, and not only in my own writings. Both current and future ones.