The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution is invoked by every special interest group, every school, every newspaper, every form of electronic communications, and every self-described victim in the United States. It is invoked to defend that person or group’s right to free speech. It is invoked against employers, media, parents or anyone in a position of authority. Claiming my “first amendment rights” evokes a reaction in the “oppressor ” like the dawning light does to Dracula or the Cross does to the demon-possessed. There is a small problem with this: The first amendment is addressed only to Congress. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Therefore, almost every “free speech issue” has nothing to do with the first amendment, unless Congress is working on a law to curtail it. The first amendment assumes that “freedom of speech” is a given, and the danger of restriction is that of government shutting it down. But when it comes to adjudicating the endless competing claims of advocates for their own interpretation of what is “free” and what is unacceptable, that should NOT be a matter for courts to determine “under the first amendment.” THE FIRST AMENDMENT NOWHERE STATES WHAT KIND OF SPEECH IS ACCEPTABLE. What can be done to deal with speech that incites violence or slanders individuals unjustly? Notice, I did not say “slander groups.” It is individuals who are hurt by slander.
There’s nowhere the free speech issue and abuses of the concept are more ubiquitous than (anti)social media and the internet. What our founding fathers probably intended when drafting the first amendment was preventing, in order, State support of a particular religious denomination (Church of England) and government suppression of speeches like that of Patrick Henry (“Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death”), which sounded the clarion call to overthrow tyranny. Noble ideas in keeping with the reasons for founding a nation……..”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…..”, as the Declaration of Independence states have become spurious justifications for pornography and the vitriol of the internet. (Anti)social media honchos love to invoke the idea of free speech while being complicit in subverting it. Some excerpts from The New Yorker piece entitled Reddit and the Struggle to Detoxify the Internet March 19, 2018:detox internet
Yishan Wong, Reddit’s C.E.O. : “We stand for free speech,” he wrote in an internal post, in 2012. Reddit’s goal, he continued, was to “become a universal platform for human discourse.” At the time, Wong’s free-speech absolutism was ubiquitous in Silicon Valley. Twitter’s executives referred to their company as “the free-speech wing of the free-speech party.” Facebook’s original self-description, “an online directory that connects people through social networks at colleges,” had evolved into a grandiose mission statement: “Facebook gives people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Social-media executives claim to transcend subjectivity, and they have designed their platforms to be feedback machines, giving us not what we claim to want, nor what might be good for us, but what we actually pay attention to. There are no good solutions to this problem, and so tech executives tend to discuss it as seldom as possible, and only in the airiest of platitudes.
In 2012, without notice or permission, Facebook tweaked the feeds of nearly seven hundred thousand of its users, showing one group more posts containing “positive emotional content” and the other more “negative emotional content.” Two years later, Facebook declassified the experiment and published the results. Users were livid, and, after that, Facebook either stopped conducting secret experiments or stopped admitting to them. But the results of the experiment were clear: the people with happier feeds acted happier, and vice versa. The study’s authors called it “massive-scale emotional contagion.”
Melissa Tidwell, Reddit’s general counsel, told me, “I am so tired of people who repeat the mantra ‘Free speech!’ but then have nothing else to say. Look, free speech is obviously a great ideal to strive toward. Who doesn’t love freedom? Who doesn’t love speech? But then, in practice, every day, gray areas come up.” Earlier that day, I’d watched Tidwell and a colleague spend several minutes debating whether a soft-core porn subreddit, r/GentlemenBoners, should be included in standard search results. “Does free speech mean literally anyone can say anything at any time?” Tidwell continued. “Or is it actually more conducive to the free exchang/e of ideas if we create a platform where women and people of color can say what they want without thousands of people screaming, ‘Fuck you, light yourself on fire, I know where you live’? If your entire answer to that very difficult question is ‘Free speech,’ then, I’m sorry, that tells me that you’re not really paying attention.”
Reddit, Facebook, YouTube and on. I guarantee you, the masses of people who have something to say, no matter how asinine, will always be steps ahead of the censors, no matter how well intentioned. The “free speech genie” has escaped the lamp, and those who make the most noise are the ones getting their wishes granted. Individuals can sue for slander, but hurt feelings? Too late.