The concept of free speech on social media has been a hot topic in recent years, with many Catholics advocating strongly both for it and for various limitations.
The Catholic Church has written about freedom of speech in various documents, highlighting its benefits and challenges.
Right to express public opinion
Gaudium et spes explains that, “The present keener sense of human dignity has given rise in many parts of the world to attempts to bring about a politico-juridical order which will give better protection to the rights of the person in public life. These include the right freely to meet and form associations, the right to express one’s own opinion and to profess one’s religion both publicly and privately.”
The Church recognizes that everyone should be given the chance to express their opinion. This is good and praiseworthy, but at the same time needs to be within the confines of the truth.
All this supposes that, within the limits of morality and the common utility, man can freely search for the truth, express his opinion and publish it; that he can practice any art he chooses; that finally, he can avail himself of true information concerning events of a public nature.
As for public authority … It is necessary to do everything possible to prevent culture from being turned away from its proper end and made to serve as an instrument of political or economic power.Gaudium et spes, 59
Everyone should be able to express their public opinion, but it does need to be within the context of moral truth.
The main problem with this guideline is that many of those in power are not formed by Christian truth and will inevitably let their own beliefs form their decisions.
Protection of society from misuse of media
Furthermore, the Church has always encouraged the use of media, but not when it starts to degrade society.
The document, Inter mirifica, explains this dynamic of freedom.
Lastly, the same public authority, which legitimately concerns itself with the health of the citizenry, is obliged, through the promulgation and careful enforcement of laws, to exercise a fitting and careful watch lest grave damage befall public morals and the welfare of society through the base use of these media. Such vigilance in no wise restricts the freedom of individuals or groups, especially where there is a lack of adequate precaution on the part of those who are professionally engaged in using these media.
Special care should be taken to safeguard young people from printed matter and performances which may be harmful at their age.Inter mirifica, 12
When a media platform starts to harm society, the Church would recommend that it be regulated and under strict watch. This has only become more difficult to accomplish in recent years with the internet and the global reach of social media. Personal responsibility becomes even more important in these circumstances.
While the Church gives us sound guidelines, there is no clear vision forward for how to implement them in a fallen world, and we need to be aware of the many ways that social media can cause harm, especially to the young.