Reader LikeFrankConstanza writes:
I’m a huge supporter of the First Amendment, but…we need more sensible controls on First Amendment freedoms and Americans’ access to speech.
Oh yes, seriously. America is more divided today than at any other time since our founding. 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 express any opinion as if it’s 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 piece and mentioning the unprecedented depths of America’s current divisions, but failing to mention the Civil War. Like I just did.
Wait…how can someone really be in favor of the elimination of a constitutional right? I’m not talking about elimination. Just some sensible, common sense middle-of-the-road laws we can enact that both respect the First Amendment while keeping our children and communities safe. When you think about it, that’s just common sense.
I think we can all agree that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TV and other mediums couldn’t possibly have been foreseen by the Founding Fathers. The eighteenth century had nothing like this at all. Letters took days, weeks, and even months to travel from sender to recipient. Speech was only possible at the town green or in meetinghouses within actual earshot of the intended listener.
At best, a moveable type printing press could produce only a few thousand copies of works like Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet Common Sense. And even then they were distributed and consumed over days and weeks. Very few people were literate, a natural and sensible restriction on the dissemination of speech at the time.
The Framers clearly never intended freedom of speech to apply to high-speed, military grade forms of communication capable of broadcasting high capacity amounts of text and videos that would be easily accessible to the entire population. The consequences of such easy access to weapons of mass misinformation today are sadly all too obvious.
President Obama has had to give yet another eulogy after an extremist (whose name I will never mention), was given easy access to hate speech produced by groups like Black Lives Matter, Malcolm X, the Huey P. Newton Gun Club and other militant black groups. Those words inflamed him to the point he decided to kill five police officers. I think we need to look at some sensible controls on this kind of speech to prevent further radicalization and the spread of dangerous and violent ideas.
It shouldn’t be easier to share your opinion with tens of millions of people than it is to buy a sandwich. Buying a sandwich requires you to put on pants, have money, be able to locate a place that sells sandwiches, and complete a social interaction with another human. But you can hit record on your smartphone, post the video on YouTube and share it with millions without every leaving your mother’s basement. I might be in my underwear right now writing this. Who knows? Well, Facebook probably knows because they have access to activate your desktop camera and microphones remotely.
I know extremists say the First Amendment protects the absolute right to express offensive, wrong, nutty, irresponsible and annoying speech. But 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 and the community as a whole?
Much of the information out there today simply isn’t accurate. At all. People share opinions riddled with misinformation, intentionally omitting, facts and this only makes things more dangerous for our nation as a whole. In fact, sometimes people actually 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 regulation. We need to make sure that speech is only shared by those who are producing accurate information in a safe and sane manner with the goal of furthering the national 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 disseminate speech in the electronic age. It shouldn’t be easier to share an opinion than it is to buy a sandwich. Let alone a book.
There should be a basic, common sense test on the safe use of speech. A simple test, created at the state level, could assess a person’s knowledge of the use of speech and their responsibilities when using it. Upon paying a small fee, say $25, and passing a test, a person would be given a Speech Safety Certificate good for five years from the date it’s issued.
High capacity speech should be more strictly regulated. Anything over 1000 words or videos over five minutes can be much more dangerous, giving the speaker, writer or creator more opportunity to inflame passions in an audience. Only government-approved agencies should have access to this kind of high capacity speech. Twitter, with its 140 character limitation, is a perfect example of intelligent, well-developed and rational discourse.
Assault speech should be banned entirely. Assault-style speech, such as speech using only black letters, all caps and improper grammar, punctuation or excessive exclamation marks, should be banned. It has only one purpose — 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 more stringently in certain localities based on local standards. Not everywhere in America is the same. What passes as reasonable speech in New York City probably won’t fly in Peoria. Cities, states and other localities need to be able to enact more strict laws to accurately reflect the values of their communities.
A sensible cooling off period of 10 days should be enacted on all speech. We don’t want people to broadcast speech when they’re angry. Give them time to compose thoughts, do some research and eliminate the danger of angry speech going out there where anyone could be affected by it.
The right to free speech should be limited to the speaker’s home. If someone wishes to express ideas, willy-nilly, on the streets, they should have to obtain a permit from a local law enforcement agency, pass a background check, pay a fee, undergo training and carry liability insurance for any damage that speech may do to innocent bystanders.
These common sense measures would be a great step toward creating safer communities for all of us. I really appreciate the groundwork for this kind of reform that’s been laid by groups like the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The work they’ve done to put common sense limits on a constitutional right has been an inspiration and surely is in keeping with what the Founders intended.
(LikeFrankConstanza blogs at likefrankcostanza.wordpress.com)