Today, thanks to social networks, the information chain has become almost unlimited, paving the way for the transmission of all kinds of values that have visibly and radically changed. Values that in the not so distant past were indisputable have become obsolete, unpopular or in contrast to the orientations of society, and are considered such as means of a furtive dominant power, of religious obscurantism, of patriarchy and of policies that oppress minorities. For example, the controversial trinomial, Family, God and Homeland (Translated by Alissa D’Vale)
The new values seek to find their unity under the flag of human rights, which they are not, and they are not intended to be, civil rights but rather individual rights: abortion, homosexuality, free unions, surrogacy paternity or maternity, freedom of speech and expression without limitations, intransigent private property, undocumented mobility, total free trade, and many others that today dominate the imaginary horizon of virtual society.
The confrontation between the different values does not occur in a respectful dialogue, like in the academic or political arena, with recognized and accepted references as frameworks. Rather, it overflows in street violence, insults, aggressive and oppressive confrontations of all kinds – right or wrong considered, as the last possible resource for an alternative way of thinking that is seen still dominant.
The freedom to express any idea and spread it by any means can, however, also become a weapon of domination, damaging the dignity of people and the integrity of the community. All freedoms, even fundamental ones such as freedom of speech and expression, cannot be unlimited.
The concept of limit is inherent to the concept of law in a democracy, so that rights can coexist as a whole. The freedoms and rights of others are of these limits, and each right must necessarily be limited if it wants to coexist with the other rights in an orderly and viable manner. Are these criteria, theoretically valid, sufficient also to guarantee the exercise of a right while respecting other rights? It doesn't seem like it.
The New York Times exhibits its “Opinions” section as an area for free debate. However, in the short space of a few weeks, it has “let go” of two precious collaborators because they were not in line with a certain frame of mind. First, it was James Bennet, licensed to have published the text of a Republican senator in favor of sending the army to restore order in the protests over the murder of George Floyd. Then it was the turn of Bari Weiss, editor of the “Opinion” section, who left the newspaper slamming the door. Explaining her gesture in the letter to the editor, she affirms: “Twitter has become our ultimate editor”, which is dominated by “cancel culture” because of its need to avoid anything that might make someone’s sensibility uncomfortable.
In Italy, an LGBT group improvised a protest in front of a church where people were praying for the family, which was interpreted as an initiative for rejection of the new homo-transphobia law under discussion in parliament, which many consider useless and ambiguous. The neologism literally means “Fear of people of the same sex”, but it is used to label as intolerance of people who are not in favor to LGBT ideology.
The “Legality and Merit” project of the Italian Ministry of Education and the Luiss University of Rome have identified two limits of current information which – on purpose or explicitly –, aims at imposing new “values” by exercising the power of single thought in modern society. Born to promote the culture of legality and meritocracy in Italian schools, this year, the project has chosen information as a field of research because the pandemic has shown how misinformation has become a true infodemia.
The speed in which information is transmitted prevents it from being investigated, deepened and studied, to the point that even its understanding is damaged.
In addition, the excessive amount of information makes it difficult or sometimes impossible to analyze it in depth. Consequently, it prevents the understanding of the facts and makes it difficult to verify whether the sources are reliable. We know this from experience, because sometimes we all have been recipients and afterwards have become disseminators of information and beliefs, without searching for its scientific and objective basis.
The coexistence in a free and democratic society presupposes a balance between different and sometimes opposite values. This coexistence asks also for dialogue, to establish, with reasonable criteria, which of them can prevail at a certain historical moment. However the value - and the consequent rights - for the moment set aside should never been distorted or its exercise made difficult or even impossible.
The “Personal Rights” (right to privacy, integrity, reputation, social dignity), which protects the value of the person’s dignity, are essential limitations to freedom of expression as it is in the public sphere, of everything related to the administration of justice and state security. However, while the dissemination of fake news can be sanctioned by law, legal instruments will never create the coexistence of opposite values and the relative rights and duties if they are not supported by a sense of responsibility and by a culture of legality of all citizens.
It is possible to think that the alternation “of power” of certain values and rights at the expense of others is the result of history, in its cycle of courses and turns, according to the thoughts of the Italian philosopher Gianbattista Vico. For Vico, the age of gods, when we allow ourselves to be guided by the senses and the imagination, the age of heroes, when society starts organizing itself, and the age of men, when beliefs receive a rational basis, an explanation, and the principle of equality of any person before the law takes the ground – these ages alternate in successive cycles. Or one can think that the inevitable condition of the progress of ideas, values and consequent rights is what Habermas defines as the law of the pendulum, two steps forward one step back.
The risk is falling each time into the freedom of thought and expression that Benito Mussolini praised in front of journalists on October 10th, 1928: “Italian journalism is free because it serves a single cause and a single regime: it is free because under the laws of the regime it can exercise, and in fact exercises, functions of control, criticism and propulsion.”
Thus, free to think and say what, in the tide of the moment, rises or falls according to the interests of power, of economy, or of the social networks’ ideologies.