YOU think you’re looking into the heart of darkness – and then, over there, something even worse distracts you.

If you’ve come upon the barbaric details of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, then no need to repeat them here. Your soul deserves some respite.

But suffice to say, and combined with his valiant final column for the Washington Post, Khashoggi’s death might well have you running up the “free speech” flag above any other this week.

“What the Arab world needs most is free expression”, goes the headline in the Post. Khashoggi quietly measures the distance between the Arab Spring and current conditions. These resemble “the Arab World’s version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power”.

Speaking freely has always had its costs. The recent spike of unexplained murders and disappearances of journalists across the globe is pretty clearly correlated with the rise of authoritarian and right-wing populist regimes.

Facing these lethal situations, the link between free communication and healthy society seems as valid as it was in the era of Milton or John Stuart Mill, let alone the classical Greek polis.

Yet this is not only a problem for “those over there”, living beyond some liberal-modern boundary. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the elected head of the United States regularly cheers on the abuse of journalists. In the past few days, indeed, Trump celebrated the physical roughing-up of a journalist last year.

Also this week, the UK Government’s counter-terrorism Bill was accused of infringing free speech, by Westminster’s cross-party human rights committee.

The committee’s report states: “We are particularly concerned that a sentence of 15 years could be imposed for a precursor offence of viewing terrorist material online three times or more ... this could jeopardise legitimate research, for example by academics or journalists, or individuals accessing material out of curiosity.”

It’s striking how proposals like this sneak into your daily actions as a citizen, and set you wondering whether you’re crossing a line or not. Here’s my example.

There’s an essay I have long bookmarked, and reread regularly. It’s titled “Battle lines: want to understand the jihadis? Read their poetry”, from the New Yorker, June 8-15, 2015.

The piece undoubtedly delivers.

It maps out the idealism and heroism – expressed in jihadi verse taken from radicalising websites – that guides young men (and some young women) into extremism.

But am I now to pause the next time I access it, or ping it to a friend or colleague – lest the national-security algorithms catch me mistakenly? That feels very wrong.

The UK Government’s response, expectedly, points to the string of domestic jihadist attacks on British soil in recent years. The justification for their proposals of near-total surveillance of digital traffic, endlessly sifting the Cloud for clues, is a mound of innocent corpses.

At the height of the Irish Troubles, Thatcher tried to rob the IRA of the “oxygen of publicity” by muting their speaking voices on the nightly news. Yet we have been a fully networked society for about a decade now. Everyone, no matter their values, is potentially the newsreader at the desk of their own social media app.

You’d have thought the cybercat of free speech – or at least our expectation that it’s the norm – is mostly out of the bag. I wonder, though. When it comes to the crunch, how deep in the marrow will we value these new powers of self-expression?

When restrictions on “acceptable” communications start to tighten, and the technology develops to enforce them, will we rouse ourselves to defend our digital free speech rights? Or will there, alternatively, be an exhausted sigh of acceptance? That someone, somewhere, is putting a boundary round the shitstorm?

Scotland has been mildly rehearsing some of these scenarios. In April this year, the Scottish Government’s own Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 was repealed by a coalition of Holyrood political forces, in the face of majority polls for its retention.

Before the Act, online communications came under the same law as offline. The bulk of the opposition’s argument was that conviction was particularly difficult to ensure on the law’s own terms. The material at hand often involved interpretable matters of history, culture and “satirical” performance.

In the classic words of free speech advocates, might not one answer to the “bad” speech of sectarian division be “more” (and better) speech, in order to persuade and change minds? Is criminalising the expressed passions of historically defined sports communities really the best way of calming them down?

The second case – just about on my own doorstep – was that of Coatbridge’s Count Dankula (real name: Markus Meechan). He was successfully convicted in April of this year, at Airdrie Sheriff Court, of “hate crime” (according to the Communications Act, 2003).

You’ll remember this took the form of a YouTube video, where Meechan had trained his pug dog to raise its paw in salute, responding to the injunctions “Seig Heil” and “Gas the Jews”.

Hallelujah! There’s the wonders that can be achieved with technologies that enable “more” speech against “bad” speech. Praise be, and pass the off switch.

Yet when you watch Dankula’s post again, after the furore has subsided (and noting how he frames his video as “a way to annoy his girlfriend”), it seems to me that the Court erred in its conviction.

A conviction which made Meechan a cause celebre for neofascists like Tommy Robinson.

In short: it’s hard to imagine a law which penalises Dankula, but allows (say) Mel Brooks’s The Producers to maraud across regional theatre stages. Is “Springtime for Hitler” any less pointedly, determinedly offensive than Meechan’s goofball routines?

But old schlockmeisters like Brooks were squeezing their satire through a Hollywood production system, with every possibility of commercial oblivion. They weren’t directly feeding into a massively automated system that derives direct profit from eternal, everyday outrage – all these interactions sold to advertisers as audience research.

As Zeynep Tufekci said earlier this year in Wired magazine’s free-speech special, “shit-talkers” like Dankula are core to the business model of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. These companies “regard all speech – whether it’s a breaking news story, a saccharine animal video, an anti-Semitic meme, or a clever advertisement for razors – as just “content”. Each post just another slice of pie on the carousel”.

Tufekci continues: “The economics underlying the Big Tech platforms – harvesting attention with a massive surveillance infrastructure to allow for targeted, mostly automated advertising at very large scale – is far too compatible with authoritarianism, propaganda, misinformation and polarisation.”

If this can be stated so clearly, we can hopefully imagine and execute reforms. But who will kick them off? As ever, Scottish independence is an opportunity – in this regulatory and legal jurisdiction, at least – to experiment with solutions.

Never was the ambition for us to be “a wee bit better than over the Border” so inadequate. If a second Scottish Enlightenment is at all imaginable, it will be because it gets its teeth into this stuff.

In his last article for the Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi dreamed of “a modern version of old transnational media”, distributing professionally produced news, by which “ordinary people in the Arab world be able to address the structural problems their societies face”.

Good idea. Let’s really be bothered about speech, freedom, technology and regulation, if we Scots get the chance to be fully engaged in the world. Complex world: many to help, much to do.