Gary Lineker row is tip of the iceberg when it comes to free speech challenges: Rashmi Dubé
The question that arises is more far-reaching than a political question or one of employment/contractual issues. It is one where we see the future changing around the freedom of what people have the right to say, and the control that was perceived to be in place may just be the emperor’s clothing upon the business’ Human Resources’ back.
At the time when Facebook exploded and people were airing their views publicly, perhaps for the first time, many of us lay shocked and stunned. We were left asking, ‘how can I be friends with this one?’
The same was repeated at the time of Brexit with lifetime friends falling out and unfollowing or unfriending those they have known for years.
Employers began writing company policy in hope to control their employers/contractors’ views so they cannot tarnish the “brand” of the organisation.
The question now is just how far will people care about the business world where there is suffering on the doorsteps? How much can you expect people to keep their views to themselves when the impact on society from the current economic climate is so seriously affecting low-income families?
The position always seems to change however when it comes down to corporate freedom of speech. Organisations have moved to make their message heard through influencers, creating a rhetoric controlling the messaging and algorithms of what we see and hear. Creating a narrative to follow and influence where the content may not be 100 per cent true or genuine but if it sells the products and impacts no one, what harm can it possibly do?
This is the thought process I imagine boards of directors tell themselves. It is much like greenwashing, with false statements branded across the website – encouraging the consumer not only to buy the product but to buy and live the brand. But we are seeing a shift once again. It is not just consumers who want more ethical marketing that shows businesses are socially responsible but the general public want to see a level of freedom of speech that allows some equality between the commercial narrative and that of the individual.
The current situation around Gary Lineker is the same around commercial brands. The brand BBC has a right to try and keep itself impartial but in any organisation (and in particular commercial brands), what everyone wants to see is consistency in decisions being made and transparency. But legislation has already started creating a ripple effect for the future. Globally, we are seeing changes in legalisation around the internet and comments and images shared, particularly around hate crime.
What is becoming blurred is the changes within society in respect of how people want to be seen and spoken to, creating a debate over what is considered a hate publication or expression.
The use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) increased during the pandemic in creating content and with it brings new challenges to the freedom of speech question. There is no doubt in my mind that the use of AI will be made easily available over time to everyone, but the control of the information it learns is likely to be guided only by a set few individuals running larger tech companies.
The maze to navigate is getting harder and harder.
Rashmi Dubé is a partner at gunnercooke