The Limitations of Free Speech

Freedom of Speech, it’s the first part of
the first amendment. And it means I’m allowed to say whatever
I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. Right? Freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones
of the America and has since been adopted by countless other countries. But it’s also one of the most misunderstood,
and let’s face it, abused rights that we have. So today, let’s take a look at what the
First Amendment actually says and what Freedom of Speech actually is… “Congress shall make no law… abridging
the freedom of speech” Seriously, that’s the entire thing. The first amendment contains five rights,
and this is all it has to say about freedom of speech. So that’s it right? End of video. You can say whatever it is you want. No. Not even close. While you are afforded the ability to say
99.9% of whatever you want to say, wherever and whenever. It’s that .1% of things that people often
misunderstand and think they are protected against, when they’re not. If you just look at the ten words in the constitution
that afford you the right to free speech, you would think there would be no rules. But there are. The prime example everyone brings up is that
you’re not allowed to yell “fire” in a crowded theater or “bomb” at an airport. Why not? Because you’re inciting a panic that may
itself cost the lives of more people than an actual fire or bomb. So it’s against the law. Now let’s look at lying. Most of the time, lying is okay. The dog farted. I finished my homework. I love you too. You know, the standard stuff. We all know it’s bad but for the most part,
you’re allowed to do it. Except when you aren’t. Like when you’re on the witness stand and
you’ve sworn to tell the truth. That’s perjury. Or if you’re being questioned by the police,
if you’re caught lying, that’s obstructing justice. Those are pretty obvious examples that most
people know about though. If you’ve been following any of the recent
Youtube drama, first of all shame on you. But you’re also probably aware of the recent
wave of false rape and pedophile allegations made against some pretty famous youtubers. Is calling someone a pedophile within your
first amendment rights? Only if they actually are one – and have
been either legally convicted or medically classified as one. The same goes for calling someone a sociopath
or psychopath, another favorite word youtubers like to throw at each other. Or when your angry ex goes around telling
people you have aids. You’re not protected by freedom of speech
if you are lying about someone’s mental health, criminal background, or medical status. This is called slander if you say it and libel
if you write it. And while it won’t land you in jail, you
can be sued in civil court for defamation of character. Freedom of speech does not protect you against
falsely accusing someone of a crime or spreading lies about someone in order to hurt them socially
or professionally. On the topic of hurting people, you’re also
not allowed to actually say you are going to hurt someone. Duh. Threatening statements are criminally illegal,
even if you’re joking. In 2013, a League of Legends player names
Justin Carter made a facebook post where he said he was going to shoot up a kindergarten
and eat their still beating hearts… lol jk. He was arrested and charged with terroristic
threatening, and as of this video, is still awaiting trial – two and a half years later. He could face up to 8 years in prison if convicted. Many people have claimed this was just a sarcastic
joke taken out of context and that his charges are an infringement on freedom of speech. Threats are not protected under freedom of
speech… but since he has not been convicted, I cannot tell you whether this is a joke or
not. I leave that for the judge and jury to decide. Most of these laws were written before the
days of the internet. The days of being anonymous on the internet
are long gone. You are accountable for what you say and can
very easily be tracked down. Think long and hard about anything you want
to post. Posting a threat on the internet is now no
different than if you were to say it to the person’s face in a school hallway. Which is a nice segue into cyberbullying and
online harassment. Recently, Youtube updated its terms of service,
saying that harassment, cyberbullying, and negative or hurtful statements about other
users will no longer be allowed and could lead to videos being removed or channels being
shut down. Which has caused many large youtube channels
to get out their torches and pitchforks saying that this is a violation of free speech. Again, let’s take a look at the first amendment. “Congress shall make no law… abridging
the freedom of speech.” The first amendment protects you from the
government infringing on your freedom of speech. Youtube is a private company providing a mostly
free service to users who must agree to their terms in order to use their platform. They are completely within their right to
say what is and is not allowed on their website. Private companies are allowed to set their
own rules regarding the speech of people who use their service or work for them. When you click “I agree” on all of those
website terms and conditions or sign an employment contract or endorsement deal, there is almost
always something in there regarding what you’re allowed to say. If you are a vegan who works at a restaurant
and you tell every customer who orders a steak that they are evil baby cow murderers… you
are not protected from losing your job by freedom of speech. If you host an afternoon cooking show or own
a basketball team and decide to use the n-word a few dozen times in public, your employer
or advertisement deals are within their rights to cut business ties with you. Freedom of Speech protects you from the government
throwing you in jail – unless you say one of the few things I mentioned earlier. It does not protect you from the social and
professional consequences of saying whatever you want. Which brings us to everyone’s favorite posterchild
for freedom of speech, the Westboro Baptist Church. While they say some of the most awful things
ever uttered by man, they don’t break any of the previously mentioned laws. If they had some sort of endorsement deal,
they could lose it. If they were on private land while protesting
a funeral, they could be arrested for trespassing. But there is nothing preventing them from
saying the things they say. Can they say “thank god for Orlando” or
“god hates –insert epithet here-?” As horrible as it is, yes they can. But have they ever said “We’re going to
go shoot up a gay night club… lol jk?” The next time you choose to say or post something,
stop and ask yourself: “Would the Westboro Baptist Church get away with saying this?” If the answer is no… you may want to rethink
hitting that send button… along with a few of your other life choices… Freedom of speech gives us a wide range of
things we’re allowed to say. There are a very few things we can be put
in jail for saying. A few more things we can be sued or fined
for saying. And a lot of things that we can lose our reputations,
careers, and privileges for saying. I cannot stress this enough, the first amendment
protects you from the government in most cases. It is not a magic “just kidding” button
you can hit whenever you say something that lands you in hot water. The next time you want to exercise your right
to free speech, I hope you take a second to think about what you’re about to say, because
now, you know better.