My dad always says, “everyone is entitled to their own ignorance”.
Social media has equipped us in many ways. It has provided more knowledge, but it has also fueled ignorance. The various social platforms we communicate on are a blank canvas for us to paint our opinions, but we often end up with online bullying, fights and a history of posts that are not nearly as desirable as a Van Gogh painting.
While there is a place to express your opinion, it is better for it to be informed rather than ignorant, rude, uncouth etc. In South Africa, the constitution which contains the Bill of Rights, says the following about the freedom of expression in section 16(1):
16. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes—
(a) freedom of the press and other media;
(b) freedom to receive or impart information or ideas;
(c) freedom of artistic creativity; and
(d) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
Surely that means I can run my mouth the way I want to? No. Rights are always coupled with responsibilities. Section 16(2) goes on to say:
(2) The right in subsection (1) does not extend to—
(a) propaganda for war;
(b) incitement of imminent violence; or
(c) advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
In summary, while you have the freedom to express your opinion, it cannot be to the detriment of others, for the purposes of inciting violence and propaganda for war.
Does that mean I cannot say anything on social media since I’ve got to be super strict on what I do say? No. In fact, state your opinions with your chest, but remember the above.
Strive to make your opinion informed especially when it comes to real events taking place around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic was one stellar example of how people were spreading misinformation under the guise of expressing an opinion.
With all the problems we face in the world today, the last thing you need is expressing your opinion on a real event that lacks your understanding and research.
What’s on the line if you express your opinions recklessly? Your job and your reputation. Remember Justine Sacco, the American PR executive who lost her job due to a tweet she posted? This happened in 2013, and I can almost guarantee that such cases have increased dramatically since then.
If you are burning to express your opinion on social media especially while fueled by anger, make a cup of tea/coffee (that takes about 3-5 minutes and in that space of time you will calm down).
If you still have not calmed down, call or text a friend. Its better to express your opinion to someone close to you than on your social media account which has the potential to spread to many people.
Ask yourself if your opinion will negatively or positively impact the next person. If you are unsure, its an even better reason not to say anything.
Not all opinions need to be shared, no matter how big the issue is. This is a contentious one because your silence could be taken as agreement to something that you know you don’t stand for. Here’s an example: showing solidarity for a cause is not limited to sharing how you feel about it online. You could support a cause through donations, prayers and creating awareness (with verified facts). Keeping quiet is also healthy – be discerning when determining when and if you should share your opinion. That requires tact, so make a conscious effort to be tactful when expressing yourself.