I’m a huge supporter of the First Amendment, but we need more sensible controls on the First Amendment when it comes to freedom of speech.
Oh yes. Seriously. In no time in America since 1776 has America been more divided than it is today. That’s a direct product of easy access to mass media by people who seek to do evil through misinformation and fanning the flames of hatred though biased speech. People can jump on the internet today and give an opinion as if it is fact. Often these people are willful dumbasses, ignoring basic facts that they either don’t know or chose to ignore. You know, like writing a blog where they do things like talk about the division in America today but fail to mention the Civil War as a period of greater division between today and our founding. Like I just did. Did you catch it?
How can someone really be in favor of the elimination of a Constitutional right? I’m not talking about elimination. I’m talking about sensible, common sense middle of the road laws that we can enact that both respect the First Amendment while keeping our children and communities safe. When you think about it, it is just common sense. I think we can all agree that things like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TV and other forms of social media aren’t anything that the Founding Fathers could have conceptualized. The eighteenth century had nothing like this at all. Letters took days, weeks and even months to travel to the eyes of readers. Speech was only possible at the town green or in the meetinghouse within actual earshot of the listener. At best, a moveable type printing press could produce things like Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet Common Sense a few thousand copies at a time and even then over days and weeks of work. Very few people were even literate, a natural and sensible restriction on speech at the time. The framers never intended freedom of speech to apply to high-speed, military grade forms of communication capable of dispensing high capacity files of text and videos easily accessible to the entire population. The consequences of easy access to such weapons of mass misinformation today is sadly obvious. President Obama has had to give yet another eulogy after an extremist (who’s name I will intentionally never mention), was given easy access to free speech media produced by groups like Black Lives Matter, Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton Gun Club and other militant black free speech groups. Those words inflamed him to the point he decided to kill 5 police officers. I think we need to look at some sensible controls on speech to prevent the radicalization and spread of dangerous and violent thought.
It shouldn’t be easier to share your opinion with millions of people than it is to buy a sandwich. Buying a sandwich requires you to put on pants (or even a shirt at your more high brow places), have money, be able to locate a place that sells sandwiches, and complete a social interaction with another human. You can just jump on YouTube in your underwear, hit record on your smartphone and share it with millions. I might be in my underwear right now writing this. Who knows. Facebook probably knows because they have access to activate your desktop camera and microphones remotely.
I know extremists say that the First Amendment protects the absolute right to offensive, wrong, nutty, irresponsible and annoying speech. What about my right to be free from ideas I don’t like? What about my rights to be safe from people who use hate speech to make things more dangerous for me? WHAT ABOUT MY RIGHTS?
Much of the information out there today isn’t accurate. At all. People share opinions riddled with misinformation, intentional deletion of facts and this only makes things more dangerous for our nation as a whole. People often just make stuff up.
If we’re going to allow the average person to have access to so much military-grade technology, it should come with some common sense regulations. We need to make sure that speech is only shared by those who are giving accurate information in a safe and sane manner with the goal of furthering the conversation. Here’s what I propose:
- Universal background checks on people wanting to use electronic media. We need to make sure that only sane, law abiding people have access to freedom of speech in the electronic age. It shouldn’t be easier to share an opinion than it is to buy a sandwich.
- A basic, common sense test on the safe operation of speech. A simple test, created at the state level, could assess a persons knowledge of speech and their responsibilities when using that speech. Upon paying a small fee of $25, the person would be given a Speech Safety Certificate good for five years from the date the test is passed.
- High capacity speech should be more strictly regulated. Anything over 1200 words or videos over 5 minutes can be much more dangerous, giving the speaker, writer or creator a longer opportunity to inflame passions of an audience. Only government approved agencies should have access to high capacity speech. Twitter, with the 140 character limitation, is a perfect example of intelligent, well developed and rational discord. Nobody needs more than 140 characters to express an idea.
- Assault speech should be banned. Assault-style speech, such as speech using only black letters, all caps and with improper grammar, punctuation or excessive exclamation marks should be banned. It only serves to hurt people. Nobody needs assault speech. A simple list of offensive speech features could be used to eliminate the most dangerous types of speech on our streets.
- Speech should be regulated in patchwork style, with cities, states and other localities able to enact more strict laws to accurately reflect the values of their community.
- A sensible cooling off period of 10 days should be enacted on all speech. We don’t want people to get a hold of speech when they’re angry. Give them time to compose thoughts, do research and eliminate the danger of angry speech.
- The right to speech within the home should still be free. If someone wishes to carry speech with them into the streets, they should have to obtain a permit from a local law enforcement agency, pass another background check, pay a fee, undergo training and carry liability insurance for any damage their speech may do to innocent bystanders.
These common sense measures would be a great step towards safer communities. I really appreciate the groundwork being laid out by groups like the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Bloomberg’s Every Town and Mom’s Demand Action. They’re very clearly paving the way to sensible elimination of the Constitutional rights of Americans in the modern age, just like the framers intended.