The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects our right to free speech:

“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.”[1]

And many progressive forms of government place emphasis on such freedoms as those guaranteed by the first amendment. Our societies depend on diverse opinions to reveal new ideas and to assure that many voices are heard.

A First Amendment error has occurred.

Social media presents special challenges for advocating free speech and assuring protections while also considering potential abuse of social channels as a tool for bullying and threats. So while censorship and abridged freedom expression is a real concern, so is the prospect of people with malicious intent abusing the right of free speech toward sinister ends. In the U.S., the Supreme Court, in it’s next session, will consider the case of Elonis v. United States, No. 13-983, in which the defendant is accused of making threats toward his estranged wife via Facebook posts of his rap lyrics. Mr. Elonis contends that they were (violence-laced) rap lyrics like, well, lots of raps lyrics while the plaintiff states that she felt threatened and in fear for her and her family’s safety. It is usually an extreme case that lands an issue before the U.S. Supreme Court for a decision, so while no one would advocate open season on threats of violence via social media we all must be concerned about our fundamental rights of expression and speech. But where is the line drawn? Many (most) of us self-censor, perhaps reading and re-reading our statements prior to publishing them. But what of those who don’t wish to? Is the internet and social media an open forum of communication and discourse? Do we have the right to espouse unpopular perspectives? Do governments and courts have a responsibility to abridge speech and expression in the name of protecting citizens? Let’s discuss. This Tuesday, right here at #SMXChat.

Q1) What is the intent of the principle of free speech? How does social media affect that principle?

Q2) Is free speech and expression a universal right (and responsibility)?

Q3) Where does it cross the line of free speech vs. harassment/threats; or being offensive in other ways?

Q4) What standards do we use to abridge our own speech? Should biz and brands establish standards for this?

Q5) Do social communities self-police speech and behavior? How should they do so?

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