Free Speech – Constitution v Common Sense

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Free Speech – Constitution v Common Sense

Now whilst freedom of speech, and indeed freedom of expression are essential foundations of a civilised and free society, surely there is a limit to where freedom of speech can be used in order to protect people making false and malicious comments from redress, when the actions of the individual are less then civilised?

Constitution versus Common Sense
When the First Amendment was drafted its intention was to allow individuals to follow what political persuasion they deemed just, what religion they wanted to follow and to allow individuals to have some sort of  freedom of expression that couldn’t be silenced by government.

It also allowed the way for the press to act without undue censorship or influence but it seems now that the First Amendment is being touted to allow a free for all in terms of people saying what ever they want, with no accountability for their actions and the rise of false and malicious comments about individuals and companies is at epic proportions.

The principles upon which the First Amendment was created are sound but it’s just that the assumption that all persons citing those protections of free speech are always telling the truth which needs to be challenged as quite frankly there are some shocking abuses online and false and malicious comments should be able to be tackled and addresses by those hurt from them.

Now whilst its one thing to stand up and say “I’m Catholic/Jewish/a Scientologist/Muslim/Mormon/Klingon/Kardashian/Jedi” etc (delete as appropriate) and profess your love of your beliefs and what they mean to you and why they make you a good human, its quite another to stand up and say “all Catholics/Jewish/etc should die” and spout hate filled propaganda to incite such.

virgin atlantic online reputationJust as its fine to post comments online saying something like don’t use (Richard Branson’s) Virgin Atlantic from Manchester to Las Vegas because its easier to go from Heathrow, more flight choices and cheaper fares. Whereas, “don’t use Virgin Atlantic from Manchester to Las Vegas because in my opinion Richard Branson is the leader of a new World Order who adopts the beliefs of Adolf Hitler”, is another thing entirely and in any other place bar the US common sense would be applied and the content be removed.

That the above comment could be posted online as my “opinion” about Richard Branson* and remain unchallenged is laughable. And because it’s an “opinion” I don’t have to offer any evidence whatsoever and it’s therefore not technically deformation in the US, and as such is protected by the First Amendment. This is quite frankly absurd!

*it isn’t my opinion btw, its only for the sake of the argument.

For the record I happen to like Richard Branson and whilst we all know his brand reputation stands for quality, for which he has spent decades building up, its comments like this actual one below, found online that people don’t see past the headlines and which can sadly influence the decision making of others reading it:

“We took a flight to las vegas, two hour delay as flight from Montego bay was late getting in. One hour on the tarmac at Las Vegas airport as customs could not cope with the capacity. one and a half hours at American customs”

The above issues which upset the flyer in question are nothing to do with Virgin and would be the same of any airline, yet they remain online, and pulling down the overall score for Virgin Atlantic and impacting their online reputation.

The real focus of the complain in this case should be Las Vegas airport and the Customs and Border Patrol, not Virgin but this is tame in comparison to the really false and malicious comments that litter the likes of TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google Reviews et al, in the hundreds and thousands on a daily basis.

How does this type of Free Speech help anyone?

It doesn’t as it’s not a true representation of the facts as they happened.

“In My Honest Opinion” aka Get Out of Jail Free
“In my honest opinion”, “in my opinion” or as often shortened online to “imho” or “imo”, it seems in the current application that First Amendment rights go as far as to allow for one person to comment that he thinks another person is a child sex attacker not because there is any evidence, nor do the two people even need to meet. Just on mere opinion alone you can call someone a child sex attacker and I think that this is wrong.

Here in the UK 36 year old Scott Bradley who moved from Manchester to Scotland in December 2010 was falsely accused of being child murderer Robert Thompson. The actual Robert Thompson’s (killer of James Bulger) real identity is protected. Nevertheless Scott Bradley was not the real Robert Thompson and was not afforded any such protection so he suffered months of malicious abuse and torment from a hate mob in the village of Garlieston, Scotland.

As a result of the online abuse, it spread offline and not being able to take anymore the falsely accused man committed suicide.

His mother Sue Bradley, 66, found her son hanging in last week (early August 2012) after the abuse had turned Bradley into a nervous wreck. Mrs Bradley said: ‘(One man) went round telling everyone that my son was definitely Thompson. People started shouting abuse at Scott in the street and calling him a child killer.’
‘It was a build-up of months and months of pressure. The worst part for him was feeling helpless. He just couldn’t take anymore.’

(Original story as reported in the Daily Mail here)

The roots of Mr Bradley’s abuse seem to stem from the fact he was convicted of a petty theft and as a result it would appear members of the community didn’t think theft was enough of a crime to turn the community against him so they sexed up the crime and smeared him as child killer, Robert Thompson. That there are no reports of arrests for sending malicious communications is somewhat worrying.

James Bulger’s mother Mrs Fergus said: ‘What happened to Scott makes my blood run cold. I’m shocked and upset that he has apparently taken his own life.  Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, this is one that shows how dangerous it is to spread false rumours and gossip…”

With Free Speech Come Responsibility
But is seems that at the moment the ‘responsibility’ part of the right of free speech is largely ignored by the online equivalent of the town idiot, and until action is take to punish those that abuse the principles of Free Speech, the cycle of abuse, internet trolls, companies being falsely labelled as Rogue businesses, and more tragic events like the Scott Bradley suicide will continue.

 

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2018-08-28T17:55:47+01:00August 29th, 2012|Consumer Review Sites, Online Reputation|0 Comments

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