Stupidity or Sociopathy?

Tayrahn W. - LLI Dayton

A subject of debate since the dawn of the Constitution has been just how far our First Amendment rights go. In the 21st century, the digital age is only making things more convoluted, with all the access to information that we have and the raw amount of knowledge we have simply resting at our fingertips. The more learned we become, the more loopholes we can devise, and the more specific the Constitution is going to have to get. The problem would be how to specify something as malleable as free speech in the first place.

With that question comes a simple answer; you don’t. Would you try to pin a tack to an atom of hydrogen with the utmost veracity? No. There are so many clashing ideals and conflicting viewpoints in today’s society that the premise of who gets upset from what another random citizen says is a common phenomenon, so drawing the line at a rational place in the sand is a hard feat, especially where academia is concerned.

So the problem with free speech is that there’s so much of it to moderate in the first place.

You don’t really have much of an idea of who’s going to get rubbed the wrong way because, put simply, offensive is largely subjective. Putting the entirety of any one building into a so-called “safe space” is never going to work as intended because of the reasons stated previously. A coworker is going to get their knots in a twist because you forgot the s in “he”, and you - left completely oblivious to whatever wrongdoing you’ve committed - are now left in the dust because you scraped some poor fellow’s morals by mistake.

The topic of hate speech is such a broad and unusual subject to pursue that trying to pin it down and build policies around it would be a near impossibility, should you think about it rationally. Think about it -- anything that’s deemed hurtful to someone else could easily be viewed as hate speech, even if the post in question wasn’t nearly as vitriolic as it was made out to be. Of course, doing it on purpose would be a completely different story. Say for example, you photoshop red dots onto some unsuspecting girl’s face to make it look as though she has herpes. I’m all for rights, but when you’re setting out to damage someone’s reputation on purpose, your rights are a moot point.

The point there would be that intent never truly trumps impact. The Supreme Court says that we should protect even hurtful speeches on public issues so we don’t stifle public debate, and I personally agree. Opinions are dangerous, but trying to silence them completely would be a mistake. Instead of cyber safety, I think we should start to teach social safety. Learn to become resilient to negative opinions, absorb them, and make your life a little easier in the long run.

Sources Considered 

  • Kowalski v. Berkely County Schools, 652 F.3d 565 (4th Cir. 2011).
  • Walsh, Mark. "Court Upholds Discipline of Student Over Internet Bullying." The School Law Blog. Education Week. 27 July 2011.
  • LoMonte, Frank. "Supreme Court's Online Speech No-Decision Counts as a "Win" for Student First Amendment Rights." Student Press Law Center. 18 Jan. 2012.
  • "School Authority Over Cyber Bullying." WR150 First Amendment Portfolio. e-Portfolios Directory.
  • Hudson Jr., David, L. "Cyberspeech." K-12 Public School Student Expression Overview. Newseum Institute. 1 Aug. 2008.