OPINION: The debate over free speech has also become about a matter of trust

Focusing on the overlaps of the opinions that divide us could lead to greater trust between people

free speech,

Picture by Schalk van Zuydam AP/Press Association Images

No person is an island. That much is very clear throughout human history.

Even if the power of social media, the Internet and economics foster a greater degree of individualism, a level of interaction will always occur between people.

Few human beings - if any - have lived in total and splendid isolation, and therefore that means one will influence others in much the same way that one will be in turn influenced by the many minds and voices oneself.

In one way, that's where the increasingly contested idea of free speech comes in, and whether certain opinions on any side of a spectrum should be given a platform.

In truth, what debates about the concept of free speech seem to actually be about is the small matter of trust.

Do you trust your fellow man and woman in a vacuum of divergent opinions?

If views regarded as controversial at best by the middle ground are emitted, can you trust your fellow citizens to not swallow them hook, line and sinker? It's not the only facet of the debate, but it's at the heart of it.

The protagonist is generally sure of one's own opinion, but must also be willing to recognise that even a strongly-held opinion can change over time.

Picture by Dominic Lipinski PA Wire/PA Images

And in the knowledge that one's own opinion can change, there is a recognition that others can also have mindsets changed when exposed to differing voices.

Given the pessimistic view that humans for the most part are innately flawed, mistrust can fester, people become polarised and the focus grows on what differentiates them, rather than the multitude of things that unite them.

Mistrust in political classes that are susceptible to divide and rule policies and false promises, as well as what is viewed as the "establishment" media also means that other outlets like social media become far more important in the world of opinion-forming.

And as recent trends have shown, social media can herd people into echo chambers that do little more than confirm their own biases, amplifying the polarising effects.

And where divergent views come into contact outside their respective echo chambers, it's on the comment sections of what's regarded as establishment media pages.

It favours the more eye-catching but aggressive viewpoints over the nuanced middle ground, leading to greater mistrust and division.

It's just a thought, but focusing on the overlaps of the opinions that divide us could lead to greater trust. But who will make that first step?