Why We Are Not Always Entitled To Our Opinion

“No, you’re not entitled to your opinion”- thank you, Patrick Stokes

Dyson et al. (1994) coined cyberspace “the land of knowledge”. This is because finally, in this parallel reality, humans now have scale and speed at their fingertips, allowing them control and coordination of information via digital networks (Mitew, 2014).

Information on anything and everything can be found on the Internet, and while this is usually a huge advantage of being connected to the network society, as cyberspace continues to grow and spread information quicker than ever, things are controllably getting out of control. I say controllably because that is just what digital networks and citizens of this society have; control. Well, to a certain extent.

In more recent times, large companies and governments have implemented measures in order to control what information they can from becoming accessible to Internet users. Control of information has always been highly contested especially on the Internet, but there are both negatives and positives to demanding absolute freedom or liberty in cyberspace.

Barlow’s 1996 ‘Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace’ declared, “You (the government) have no moral right to rule us… we are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity”. While Barlow’s declaration sounds ideal, it is also extremely utopian and slightly ignorant.

What if, hypothetically, someone’s expression, belief, or opinion is that they have the right to access/produce/share child pornography or abusive material on the Internet? Following Barlow’s Declaration model, everyone and anyone would have the right to participate in the harmful and morally indecent exploitation of children who do not have a say for themselves.

Patrick Stokes, Philosophy lecturer at Deakin University wrote a wonderfully accurate article on the topic of people being ‘entitled’ to their opinion and freedom of expression. He put it down to “you are not entitled to your opinion, you are only entitled to what you can argue for,” noting that people need to recognise when a ‘belief’ has become indefensible.

What do you think? Is Barlow’s Declaration correct or should we base our beliefs on Stokes’ notion?



Barlow, J.P. 1996, ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’

Dyson, E., Gilder, G., Keyworth, G., Toffler, A. 1994, ‘Cyberspace and the American Dream: A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age’

Mitew, T 2014, “Understanding the Network Society Paradigm”, <http://youtu.be/BY2YR1hkGzA?list=PLiPp71qLKusXOU1bKxHVappCbRNN3-J-j&gt;

Stokes, P 2012, “No, you’re not entitled to your opinion”, The Conversation, 5 October. <http://theconversation.com/no-youre-not-entitled-to-your-opinion-9978&gt;


7 thoughts on “Why We Are Not Always Entitled To Our Opinion

  1. It’s safe to say that Barlow was extremely hopeful when writing ‘A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace’. He did not think of the consequences that this new freedom would bring, or the kind of people that would have access to it. It all comes down to ethics.
    An excellent example bringing up the case of child pornography. Great work! It would be interesting to know what Barlow’s opinion would be today in regards to this piece written 18 years ago now.

  2. The Dyson quote was a great to choice to open with. I also really liked your own quote “things are controllably getting out of control” as I think this is a clever statement. You did really well with incorporating Barlow’s Declaration model with such a shocking example of child pornography. It made me think a lot as clearly this is a very vulgar act but theoretically according to Barlow everyone has a right to access what they want.

  3. Thats a good point about the child pornography, I think because Barlow’s declaration of independence was written so long ago, the internet platform has changed severely and obviously technologies have become so much more advanced therefore crime as well. I think Stokes is being fair in a harsh way? haha but people everyday write opinionated posts that are based on beliefs just as an outlet thinking they can justify it. We wouldn’t write something about our beliefs that we didn’t think we could argue. Great post, good discussion!

  4. As you state, Barlow’s declaration definitely does sound ideal but is also extremely utopian and slightly ignorant. This was written 20 years ago and I am thankful that we are moving on from our cyber-utopian celebration of cyberspace. We are moving into a moment of disenchantment and disillusion where we are recognising the full story. You could check out a resource written by Ulises Mejias, an assistant professor of new media at State University College of Oswego. He believes that “as digital networks grow and become more centralised and privatised, they increase opportunities for participation, but they also increase inequality, and make it easier for authorities to control them”. You can find his article at: http://blog.syracuse.com/opinion/2011/02/ulises_a_mejias_revolutions_ar.html.

  5. Hey Amy!

    This blog was an enjoy to read mainly because you’ve taken something quite controversial and applied it to this ideal of freedom. In this subject I’ve been trying to wrap my head around freedom on the internet and I always felt like everyone had a right to have a space that enables a sense of safety and freedom but of course this always comes with possible implications. The quote by Patrick Stokes, “you are not entitled to your opinion, you are only entitled to what you can argue for” is pretty spot on in summarising the arguments concerning internet and internet freedom. Especially concerning consumers in relation to social media where there are issues in relation to privacy and who has access where. In my opinion once we enter the cyberspace, we are consenting to the information we share and the consequences of it.

  6. I really like the point you made. Barlow’s declaration I feel is much more idealistic than anything. Realistically a liberated virtual space is seemingly impossible as it will inevitably cause negative repercussions as you’ve mentioned. Cyber bulling and child pornography already exist in a platform that seeks regulation and filtering. Without some form of limitation on users, cyberspace would surely become anarchic and chaotic. I feel that yes we should be given a cyberspace free of borders and restrictions, however to our privacy and right should also be protected. I’m indecisive on Stoke’s article, on one hand I believe yes everyone has the freedom of thought and opinion and should express it in like manner however is do agree that in contemporary society where the space for ideas and opinions is so vast, having a general perspective without substance has little to no effect or worth.
    I’ve included an interesting video by Evgeny Morozov and his take on cyber-utopianism

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