There’s a very frustrating idea that’s been floating around for a few years now, and by a few years I mean the past 241 years.
It’s the idea that the Constitution’s First Amendment, which enables the freedom of speech, allows citizens the freedom to speak their mind without consequence, which is just a fancy way of defending a homophobic baker or a racist zealot. I’m all for the free exchange of ideas and the ability for an individual to express their views but 99.99% of the time a person finds them self in hot water over a personal opinion because it affects their professional life. Here’s the kicker though, the First Amendment only protects you from the government, specifically Congress.
Literally, that’s it; case closed, end of discussion, next please. Unfortunately I can’t end there so congratulations, more ranting!
The founding fathers wanted to make sure that the new government wouldn’t make the same mistakes as the one they lived under in England. This was clearly so important to them that they felt it should be the very first amendment in the Constitution. That’s why the amendment says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. So you can’t be thrown in jail or executed because the government doesn’t like what you have to say (with some exceptions). Libel, one of a few exceptions to this rule, is defamation through print which intentionally places the affected party in danger of receiving ridicule or hatred or damages their reputation or business. In short, you can’t intentionally attack someone, damaging their reputation or trying to get others to attack them. Trolls are excellent at trying to get others riled up arguing with each other as quickly as possible. Now sometimes these trolls don’t act anonymously with one such case being Charles Johnson.
Charles Johnson is a charming fellow who was banned from Twitter for attempting to get his followers to donate money to “take out” a civil rights activist. Johnson and his followers immediately jumped on the “free speech” train in an attempt to protect him. Besides that fact that Johnson is a well known troll, his comments are grounds for libel and put DeRay McKesson, the civil rights activist, in harm’s way. So great! This scumbag is banned from Twitter and now has to spout his hate from the back of the class now, but how do we prevent others like him from continuing to do the same thing? Short answer, we’re trying; long answer, trolls are really good at being trolls. A joint Stanford-Cornell study created an algorithm for targeting specific users and predicting whether they would be banned in the future. The algorithm is 80% accurate at predicting future banned users after analyzing the first 5-10 posts. In a BBC article, the researchers explained that their,
“…algorithm is not intended to be a computerised replacement for human moderators, which might automatically ban users based on the frequency of their first few posts. Instead, the team hopes that flagging certain individuals early on would assist human moderators in warning anti-social users to cut out bad behaviour before they assume that they can get away with it.”
The First Amendment will never protect losers sitting on their computer just trying to screw with the order of things, but it also isn’t meant to protect anyone from their employer because of their opinions. All it was ever meant to be and is is a shield against the government coming after you for your comments and let’s be honest, do you really think they care?