This Isn’t Free Speech. It’s Just Cheap.

Enough with the vasectomies already.  Allow me to vent.

The First Amendment does not give an absolute right to say what you want.  Freedom of speech has its limits.   You may not exercise your freedom of speech to the detriment of other people’s freedoms by, for example, inciting racial hatred or encouraging others to commit crimes.  The question, of course, is where those limits should be.

We should all be grateful for the First Amendment.  Most people have probably seen this video of Barney Frank comparing a woman to a dining room table, but he made a far more telling point when he remarks that it is the First Amendment that gives his questioner the right to compare Obama’s health care reforms to the Holocaust.  Odious?  Yes.  (And Frank is Jewish.)  But thank heavens we live in a society where odious views may be expressed with impunity.  Here’s the clip:

So, First Amendment, yea, hooray for you.  But how far should these freedoms be taken?  Allow to me to get hyper-parochial on you.

I, and many others, have a problem with the comments section on the Columbia Daily Tribune’s website.  People may leave comments on the news stories of the day, and boy, do they.  Even the most innocuous stories seem to attract a deluge of vapid, mean-spirited, opinionated, poorly-punctuated vitriol which leaves one reeling and utterly dispirited.  I have read posts about people that I personally know full of sly insinuations and occasional downright falsehoods, libelous in the extreme.  There is bickering and abuse between commenters which wouldn’t dignify a middle school playground.

Now, some would say this exchange represents exactly what the First Amendment is all about… and in fact I wouldn’t disagree, but for one thing: people are allowed to post comments anonymously.  I have a real problem with this.  By all means exercise these freedoms we have been given, but at least have the guts to stand behind your views.  People should be forced to declare themselves for who they are if they want to use this forum to display their bigotry and ignorance to the world.

Here’s just one choice example from yesterday’s paper.  Scroll down – it really gets cookin’ further down the page.  Mandatory birth control for welfare recipients?  Now why wouldn’t someone want to put their real name behind that idea?  (This one is another doozy, especially towards the end.)

There’s a disclaimer at the top of the page that says, “Readers are solely responsible for the content of their comments,” but the Tribunecan’t wash its hands of the bile and lies that appear on its website with one blithe sentence if they’re going to allow people to hide their true identities.  I’m all for freedom of speech, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.  If people had to give their real names there would still be crackpots writing in, and there would doubtless still be bickering and name-calling.  Fair enough.  But the First Amendment’s freedoms come with responsibility.  If you’re not ashamed of your views, say who you are.

OK, rant over.  Tomorrow, an entertaining story about a farting duck.

Comments 1

  1. looking forward to the farting duck story, but wanted to say that I’ve been thinking (and about to write) on the same topic. There is great value to anonymous political speech, but Trib talk doesn’t exactly read like the Federalist Papers.

    Good work.

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