Freedom of Speech is the rallying cry of pretty much any group with anything to say – good, bad, or indifferent. On the one hand, I’m not a big fan of censorship. On the other hand, though, I am a big fan of consequence. And I do notice that the ones screaming about their right to say what they want the loudest are usually the same ones using their words as a club to bludgeon someone else.
In the internet age we all have the ability to create a platform. To be heard, and to have our opinions and views counted by more people than we could have reached without the support of the media in years past. This can be a great thing for people who otherwise had no voice.
There are two local cases here that have me thinking a great deal about what our rights are, what the boundaries of our speech should be, and what the general perception of the term ‘Freedom of Speech’ is, as opposed to what it is in reality.
In one case, a politician for a town’s local government was getting skewered pretty good on one of the small paper’s message boards. This is par for the course, but there was one user who never failed to comment and was pretty derogatory... all of which is fine, she’s a public official and it kind of goes with the job description for a political career. However, the user decided to go after her 15 year old son in a fairly vulgar way.
The politician sued to have this user’s true identity released (presumably to go after charges or at least file an order of protection). I can’t say I blame her. It’s not a large town and the user was taking things a little too personally not to live there... which means he was some anon. web person who was scaring a 15 year old boy and probably lived within a few miles of the boy’s home. The politician won the motion to have his name released, but the anon. internet person is appealing.
There was a huge hubbub over this that she didn’t have the right to get his real name. That it infringes on the internet user’s right to privacy. But to me, hiding behind a screen name doesn’t give you the right to say anything you like. Certainly not to a child, and it was clear that the anon commenter knew he was speaking to a 15 year old. To me, that’s like saying if you wear a ski mask while you rob a bank, no one has a right to find out who you are. Just because you wanted to do something anonymously, doesn’t mean you have the right to do it.
Another case just made the news yesterday. A teenage boy got suspended from high school because he made a fanpage on facebook calling one of his female teachers a ‘lewd’ name. The whole fanpage was set up to call this teacher a name so bad that the news wouldn’t even print it. Okay, color him stupid... along with the thirty-something other kids who signed up as fans.
So why was this news? Because the mother is suing the school district stating that they didn’t have the right to suspend this kid because of something he did outside of school. Excuse me while I bounce my head off the desk.
So, instead of taking this situation and letting the kid, I don’t know, learn something maybe. His mother is basically showing him that he can do anything he wants and there shouldn’t be any consequences. So, if he does something equally stupid and disrespectful to say a future boss, then the boss would be WRONG to fire him.
I’m not a proponent of suing, but I almost wish the teacher would sue the kid and his family. I mean, how the hell is she supposed to teach these kids, if they’re all laughing at her and treating her without respect? And then you’ve got this idiot mother telling them that it’s ‘their right’... Oy. Worse than that though, if she keeps coddling this kid and telling him he’s not doing anything wrong – what happens to the kid when he’s 35 and he gets fired for pissing off the boss? What happens when his parents are gone and no one else is around to take his consequences?
There seems to be some consensus of people who think that freedom of speech means that you’re allowed to say whatever you like and no one is allowed to punish you for it. Nice theory, I suppose... except nothing in this world comes without consequence. The right to state your beliefs is an absolute, but the backbone and courage to do so has to be powered by the speaker. The state can’t give that to you and neither can the government, and there are consequences. It might be as insignificant as turning some people off who might have otherwise been friendly to you – it might be as large as losing your job or creating very real enemies. If you want to shout something from the rooftops, go right ahead. But the responsibility for dealing with the fallout that might be thrust on your life is all yours, my friend. So pick your battles wisely. And if you’re going to whine about the unfairness of the consequences, maybe you didn’t earn the right to speak in the first place.
How about you guys? What do you think the parameters are on freedom of speech? What is your take on the anonymous commenting and is it a right to stay anon no matter what you say?