The Free Speech Problem

November 17, 2014 In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 837

Most everyone agrees that online harassment is a major problem in need of an immediate solution, but in the hunt for trolls, some are too quick to dismiss legitimate concerns about free speech.

(Cross-posted at Medium)

In the wake of the GamerGate blowup, most of America is aware of our epidemic of online harassment. Unrepentant trolls on Twitter, Facebook, and similar services exploit anonymity and the ease of creating sockpuppet accounts to stalk, threaten, dox, and torment victims, even driving some to the point of suicide. But while activists rightly raise alarms about the problem, their proposed solutions often carry the risk of limiting the free speech and expression that make the Internet so powerful.

Writing at Boing Boing, for example, Glenn Fleishman explores Twitter’s problem with serial offenders, known trolls who have been banned but then return thanks to Twitter’s failure to enforce their own policy against serial accounts. Roughly two-thirds through the piece, Fleishman leaps abruptly to a rather dramatic conclusion: “the fight for anonymous speech ends when promotion of it is inexorably and demonstrably linked to enabling harassers.” Continue Reading

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First Amendment Friday: 05.02.2014

May 2, 2014 ACLU, Gay and Lesbian, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 519

This is a feature I started in my time working for the ACLU, that seems worth continuing here. It’s a roundup of news stories about First Amendment rights, not only from the United States but other parts of the world where such rights may not be guaranteed. As with any roundup of news stories, please consider the integrity of the linked source–I try not to link articles that feel bogus, but sometimes stories slip through.

  • In a new book, retired Supreme Court Justice Paul Stevens suggests six new amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including a revision to the First Amendment that would place “reasonable limits” on political campaign contributions. [NPR]
  • The NCAA believes the First Amendment gives them the right to profit from using the images of the players it doesn’t pay and doesn’t educate in video games, and they want the Supreme Court to agree. [Bloomberg]
  • Several Christian groups that perform same-sex weddings, including the United Church of Christ, have sued North Carolina because the state’s marriage equality ban, enacted through both state law and the state constitution, violate their religious freedom under the First Amendment. [Wall Street Journal]
  • Defense attorneys for alleged gang leader Ronald Herron argue that his rap recordings, in which prosecutors claim he journaled his crimes, are in fact protected free speech, analogous to Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and inadmissible at trial. [AP]

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