Fandango’s Provocative Question: Freedom of Speech

Another provocative question this week from Fandango:

“Do you believe that social media sites should be able to censor what people post on their sites and ban content creators from posting? Or do you consider such actions to be a violation of freedom of speech, which is guaranteed as a right in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?”

If you don’t live in the U.S., please weigh in with your thoughts about freedom of speech versus social media sites banning content contributors in your country.

So, where to start with this one… Hmmm… how about looking at what is NOT allowed on social media or anywhere else for that matter – for example, hate speech in all is forms…

Here in the UK, we certainly do believe in freedom of speech but also legislate variously against hate speech. For example, according to Wikipedia –

‘Expressions of hatred towards someone on account of that person’s colour, race, disability, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation is forbidden. Any communication which is threatening or abusive, and is intended to harrass, alarm, or distress someone is forbidden. The penalties for hate speech include fines, imprisonment, or both.’

I tend to agree with this approach, as in my mind it is OK for people to hold extreme opinions about others, but not necessarily to air them unsolicited and unregulated across social media platforms – opinions are opinions, but I believe they still need to be backed up with real facts in order to be legitimately broadcast to the world. Preventing hate speech to me is not a violation of freedom of speech, but a necessary safety-net to ensure equality across all groups, safe-guarding all minorities as well as the often self-styled majority within any given society.

Of course, here in the UK we don’t have a 250-year-old Constitution (plus Amendments) to hide behind to try to justify our outrageous bluff-and-bluster statements and actions which to much of the rest of the world may seem closed-minded and extremist, based on out-dated societal and cultural viewpoints and an ongoing arrogant elitist sense of entitlement. We certainly do have clear differences here in the political interpretation of statistics leading to huge arguements and debates, and we all tend to accept that to a certain degree all politicians are parochial and partisan, but obvious downright lies are generally called out and clarified, not covered up and condoned.

I’m not in any way saying things are in any way perfect here in the UK – not by a long shot – but here most extremists eventually tend to find themselves effectively shut down, backed into blind alleys and abandoned corners, hoist by their own petards. People in power who deliberately say inaccurate, inappropriate or unacceptable stuff on social media frequently find themselves unceremoniously catapulted out of office, or at least frozen out on the fringes, forgotten before long. And the people here who follow them soon follow suit.

Yet I’ve often listened to the propaganda-based political profanities spewed forth via all media channels, social and traditional, by the current incoherent incumbent of the US White House that seem to be such blatant bare-faced lies that UK laws would surely have the slanderous and libelous transgressor law-suited and booted out before he could scream ‘fake news’, and I’ve often wondered why it is simply allowed to happen across the board with such regularity and without any real legislative resistence?

It seems to me to be a real-life modern-day ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ scenario where no-one with any serious level of clout dares to tell Trump just how much he’s exposing himself as butt-naked ignorant of solid facts and is instead dressing himself in little more than a transparent fiction of delusion, whether on Twitter or via his press-puppet Sarah Sanders…

So intrigued by Fandango’s question, and in order to better understand what lies behind Trump’s apparent ability to lie deliberately, incite violent outbursts in others, and then vacillate and eventually deny any involvement himself, I thought I’d better check out US law relating to freedom of speech and hate speech. And guess what I found? There ARE actually types of speech that are NOT protected by the First Amendement!  These nine categories include:

  • Obscenity
  • Fighting words
  • Defamation (including libel and slander)
  • Child pornography
  • Perjury
  • Blackmail
  • Incitement to imminent lawless action
  • True threats
  • Solicitations to commit crimes

Well, well, well, look at that – looks like the First Amendement is NOT in fact the global panacea it is made out to be, not a free-for-all perpetual pardon for foul-mouthed fantasists, not even the President…

Even a first cursory glance leaves me questioning Trump’s fighting words about the media being the enemy of the people, and the Democrats being evil – and that’s just his view of his fellow Americans, never mind legal and illegal immigrants. And what about his constant defamation of Hillary Clinton? Incitement to imminent unlawful action pretty much covers his condoning (through complete lack of condemnation) of the far right white supremacist extremists who rioted in Charlottesville in 2017, causing the death of a young woman…

Seriously, no wonder ordinary opinionated American people think they can act with impunity online via social media platforms when they see their President spouting forth such blatantly vile vitriol and getting away with it, time after time. Constitutional Freedom of Speech is one thing, but in my opinion Hate Speech legislation should always trump that precious First Amendement right, come what may, whoever is trying to tip the balance from right to wrong…

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