Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
(That’s the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in case you didn’t know.)
Do you know what that actually means? I mean just look at it for a moment. Take it all, part by part, absorb it.
This is what gives you the right to say, write, sing, what-have-you whatever you feel. It allows me to say that I think Spongebob is an imbecilic show that does more harm than help to your children, and that it should be removed from television. It allows me to say that I do not like the way my local politics are run or many of the local officials. It also allows me to say my views on the President, though, I will hold those into myself. I can say all these things without fear of being sued or arrested.
This also allows you to say what you think and feel about others… or does it?
Legally there is a fine line between expressing your right of speech, and defamation and harassment.
Defamation of Character - “The term defamation of character is often used to describe accusations of slander, libel or both. Slander involves verbal derogatory statements, while libel involves written ones. In a court of law, the plaintiff pursuing the lawsuit would charge defamation of character to cover any form of false or damaging allegations.” (definition from WiseGeek.com) This would be if someone said something like “That Trish, she likes to watch porn all day and neglect her children.” I could sue that person because that could create all sorts of legal problems for myself based on an entirely untrue statement. Saying something false like that could potentially and completely ruin someone’s life and livelihood.
The concept of defamation of character stems from John Stuart Mills’ theory of the harm principle which states “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” (from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Why would we need this? Because one of the first things the American government agreed on was that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights. In pursuing your own rights you have NO right to deny another his if he is doing no harm to another.
Harassing someone on a blog or on a forum or whatnot online is becoming more and more widespread. And many many times its is for trivial or immature reasons, most often because, even though this person did nothing specifically to the attacker, the attacker does not like this person. You can say you don’t like someone. You can say why. But just flat out name-calling, insulting, and lying about the person for no given reason, that is just wrong and shows a lack of maturity. The old debate is “We are adults, and so we can do as we like because of that,” just goes to show a lack of maturity. If you are an adult, behave like one. Show that you have the wisdom and maturity to act like one, then maybe others will treat you as one. Quit claiming freedom of speech allows you to bash or harass someone just because you feel like it, because it doesn’t.