The following thoughts are merely my opinions and understanding. I’m no attorney nor do I even watch them on TV. If I get something wrong, I sincerely apologize. Please let me know.
Recently the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the principle of free speech even when it damaged another person. In this case, damage that took the form of emotional distress at the hands of an organization that calls itself the Westboro Baptist Church. A jury had awarded millions of dollars in damages to the parents of a Marine who was killed in Iraq but the Supreme Court ruling negated that award.
A jury had awarded millions of dollars for intentional infliction of emotional stress to the parents of a Marine who was killed in Iraq. The high court said the nature of the speech, along with the church’s peaceful cooperation with local authorities and 1,000-foot separation from the funeral, took the protest into protected legal space. (Source.)
Free speech can be one of the ugliest and most vile aspects of a democracy like ours, but a vital aspect just the same.
Would you enjoy a parade by the Nazi party in full uniform down a street in your community? But that’s the sort of thing that “free speech” makes possible in our society.
This concept of “free speech” isn’t universal. For example, members of the Westboro Baptist Church have been banned from entering Canada due to “hate speech.” (Source.)
France also has a hate speech law:
The court’s decision is in marked contrast with the case of fashion designer John Galliano, the flamboyant creative director of Christian Dior, whose anti-Semitic rant at a Paris bar was captured on film. In France, where the law reflects a deep shame over the Vichy government’s complicity with the Holocaust, hate speech isn’t just unprotected; it’s illegal. Galliano was charged with the crime of making racist comments in public, which carries a $31,000 fine and up to six months in prison. (Source.)
But what is free speech? Does it apply everywhere and in all situations. Hardly. Yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater and you just might find yourself face to face with one example of such a limitation. (Strangely enough, however, it is still legal to yell “movie” in a crowded firehouse.)
What if I come over to your house? If I’m on private property, my right to free speech is left on the sidewalk. If the property owner doesn’t feel just hunky dory at any time and for any reason, he can legally compel you to leave the property. That’s the principle of property ownership at work. We’re the kings of our little castles.
Thus we see an important distinction. Free speech applies to public property and spaces. But it doesn’t extend everywhere. And it does have limits.
Consider the example of an internet forum. In most cases those are privately owned and operated by individuals, companies and corporations. Thus, there is absolutely no guarantee or right to the concept of “free speech” in that setting. The only exception would be if the forum was owned and operated by the government. But if not, guess what? The right to comment exists at the pleasure of the forum owner.
You’ll routinely hear vile and disgusting rabble whine about “free speech” on internet forums when they’ve forced the site owners to “moderate” their comments. Those actions can’t be deemed “censorship” (except, perhaps, from a public relations standpoint) since there is no right to “free speech” on a privately owned site.
Recently Twitter was accused of censoring hashtags pertaining to WikiLeaks. I believe, however, that Twitter can’t “censor” anything since they have the legal right to moderate their own content. And there are also some who say that Amazon.com was guilty of censorship when they prevented LGBT material from their search results.
Sure, these can be public relations nightmares, and justifiably so in some cases, but again the concept of private vs. public ownership must prevail.
Internet forums, including sites like Craigslist, take things a step further by providing a platform for hate speech from the safety of a remote location on the internet – all while remaining completely anonymous. This is akin to a boxing match where one of the contestants is blindfolded and has his hands tied behind his back. And that’s not exactly a fair fight.
Craigslist has basically three types of users. Scammers, spammers and trolls.
The scammers are the Nigerian scheme folks of the net. The people who respond to your ads only because they want to scout your house and then rip you off. Or worse. Like kill you over an item of jewelry.
The spammers, well, we’ve all been around the internet enough by now to know exactly what they do.
And last but certainly not least are the trolls. These are the people that you’d almost wouldn’t think even exist any more except for the fact that we have the internet. They don’t operate in the light of day. The require the freedom of anonymity.
Was are some examples of things that trolls do?
- Post vile and vulgar racist crap
- Attack homosexuals
- Posts by women that “I’m sleeping with your husband”
- Posts by men that “I’m sleeping with your wife”
- Posts by women that “my husband is sleeping with your wife”
- Posts by men that “my wife is sleeping with your husband”
- All other possible combinations of who is sleeping with whom
- Anonymously attacking restaurants
- Accusing people by name of criminal acts
- Post the home addresses of people they hate
- Claiming responsibility for things like killing your cat
- All [blanks] are [blanks] – ex: All Democrats are fags.
- Trying to trick each other into showing up somewhere for a fist fight
Is this even remotely what “free speech” was intended to allow? I think not. If you’re going to act and say things like that, I personally don’t believe you should be able to do so from the relative safety and comfort of anonymity.
Perhaps it is time for some sort of hate speech law here in the United States. It shouldn’t be legal to hurt each other, at least not while remaining completely anonymous. And if you couldn’t do it anonymously I’m willing to wager we just might see a lot less of this sort of thing.
Free speech is speech you don’t have to pay for. I’m pretty stocked up, thanks.
As long as it’s free it’s also covered by a double-your-money-back guarantee.
I would say that even if we didn’t put forth some laws that limit usage of hateful speech, perhaps a comprehensive and understandable standards for the existing law might work equally well. (though I can see that this sort of action would possibly benefit both ideas)
There are some pretty big stretches on either side of the isle as with any legal matter. In both cases of what I see as legal harassment on part of the aforementioned church protests, and people getting sued on grounds of slander for giving a personal opinion.
It’s a thorny issue, that’s for sure. I just think something needs to be done about sociopaths who cowardly hide in anonymity on the internet and attack others. It’s truly sick. Under no stretch of the imagination should that sort of speech ever be considered “free.”