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Free Speech: Free to Be Ignorant on Social Media?

I used to think how bad it was that so many Americans didn’t understand all that the First Amendment entails, or how it works in terms of freedom of speech. Now I also lament the appalling number of elected members of Congress who are bereft of a clue and preeningly proud of it, if their hapless tweets are a reliable indication.

Because, apparently, they feel free to be raving idiots on social media.

Specifically problematic is a glaring inability to grasp the distinction that the First Amendment  prevents government suppression of speech, and also the reality that the Supreme Court can—and has—set limitations on parameters of what constitutes protected speech.

And here’s a big newsflash: Government means them, as in “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.”

Consequently, it’s downright ignorant how certain Republicans believe any action Twitter or Facebook takes with respect to member posts has anything to do with government suppression of free speech under the First Amendment. But perhaps I should be glad that, unlike the former guy in the White House, some of them can at least spell or draft a coherent sentence (a subject I touch upon a time or two in my Other Worldly series).

I’m not so confident in their ability to read—or comprehend. To engage in rational, cognitive thought. And this does not bode well for potential legislation in which these truth- and knowledge-challenged Republicans might be involved in their official capacity.

To begin with, legislation befuddles when bogged down by erratic punctuation or ignored grammatical rules, resulting in a lack of clear, concise language. Need an early example? The Second Amendment. For a more recent pickle, I’d look to any legislation that produced skewed syntax used on tax forms the rest of us are left to decipher. (It’s not that I rail against paying taxes; it’s that I find tax directives to be written in an offensive language of illiteracy.)

But this post is about the First Amendment, which too many gun-fetishist Republicans don’t seem to realize exists while insisting on a constant and constipated focus on the Second Amendment in order to exalt their self-proclaimed, twisted right to mow humans down above any other right or privilege of everyone else on Earth.

The First Amendment, like the Second, has been subject to limitations by the Supreme Court regardless of whether certain folks have figured it out. Ignorance of the law is no excuse (this also derives from the Supreme Court, per Oliver Wendall Holmes).

To wit, there are such things as “time, place and manner” restrictions for citizens to exercise their right to free speech. There’s that incitement of violence snag we’ve heard just a bit about recently. There’s restrictions on pornography involving that which “appeals to prurient interests,” which is a whole other exercise in vague, subjective language best left for another post. (Suffice to say, Supreme Court justices are supposed to be objective, not subjective, in their jurisprudence. And are supposed to have a learned clue as to the subject they’re adjudicating.)

But back to free speech—and Congressional Republicans. They may be able to get away with yammering vile, ignorant gibberish through legislative immunity granted via the Speech and Debate Clause of Section 6 in Article I of the Constitution while engaged in legislative pursuits. But standing on the House or Senate floor and bloviating about their bloated idea of gun rights is not the same as spewing dangerous, damaging lies or goading others to commit violent atrocities on Twitter or Facebook.

Because it’s them—and the Founding Fathers did mean them—that the First Amendment puts parameters on. To prevent Congress from chilling free speech rights of we the people.


2 thoughts on “Free Speech: Free to Be Ignorant on Social Media?”

  1. Agreed. You have the right to free speech as long as it does not incite violence or endanger public safety. I believe the example used in one Supreme Court case was that of a person screaming “FIRE” in a crowded theater when no fire existed. People that are trampled and are seriously injured or die can sue the lying screamer. His right of free speech does not protect him from wrongful death suits or punitive damages if the public’s safety suffers.

    1. True, both those wrongful death claims would be civil lawsuits. Different from criminal charges for disturbing the peace and any other results of shouting “Fire!” falsely in a crowded theater.

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