What ‘Free Speech’ Really Means

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-c-johnson
God look at his stupid face (Photo courtesy of charlescjohnson.com)

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?

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5 thoughts on “What ‘Free Speech’ Really Means

  1. Tim yet again I love your humor in your posts. “God look at his stupid face.” Lol What I also like about your post this week is how you use the first amendment to explain your your beliefs and reasons on the top of Charles James. Good job!

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  2. This is interesting, and I will admit that I am one of the many that didn’t necessarily know that the First Amendment was predominantly aimed at preventing the government from infringing on our rights. This is also something that is so, so prevalent today. Many people today do call upon their First Amendment rights inappropriately, thinking that by invoking the words “Free Speech,” they can spout whatever racist, sexist, and ignorant words they wish- even inventing false accusations for those people they disagree with.

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  3. At least you’re not scared to tell us how you really feel about Charles. I love the sarcasm-laced brief description about the ‘charming fellow’ before you totally trash his antiques and internet trolling. “Go d look at his stupid face” So he got banned from Twitter. I say good riddance! All joking about Charles and his stupid face aside, I’m glad there are those who are trying their best to prevent the worst of the internet trolls. You do a great job explaing everything in great detail and also in a way that helps your readers follow why you are scared to trash Charles and his trolling here. I love it.

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  4. Nyctasia makes an excellent point, sometimes we hide behind the First Amendment inappropriately. I also was surprised that the First Amendment was meant to be a shield from the government, but I can also understand how employers need to be selective when it comes to their potential employees attitudes and beliefs. You wouldn’t want to hire a Nazi- I mean *cough cough* alt-right supporter.
    Your writing style is fantastic; you’re witty and direct about what you think and believe. Excellent post!

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  5. I had no idea that the First Amendment was aimed toward the government. I mean, I had an idea, but I thought it had a broader area of focus, if you get what I mean. It is true that a lot of people hide behind the first Amendment.
    The way you write is very easy to read and stay focused on. I always enjoy reading your posts, they’re educational and sarcastic which is a amazing combination.

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