The First Amendment and Internet

According to the Constitution, the First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech (Volokh). This amendment allows citizens to freely express their ideas through written/spoken words and media such as pictures and films. However, at the same time, they are exposed to a wide range of public opinions and views that may come into conflict with their own personal beliefs and cause discomfort. With media becoming more accessible and public, more facts, opinions, and statements can be spread even if they are unpopular or inappropriate. The First Amendment provides independence for the speaker and the audience as well as the entitlement to establish different perspectives on what the individual reads and hears. Despite this freedom, the First Amendment fosters the lack of protection against the dangers and threats that are present online. As the internet becomes more commonly used, it allows anonymity, leaving people vulnerable to the unlimited forms of expression being spread and therefore, it makes it easier for internet trolls to misuse this right and achieve their goal of harassing their target. The First Amendment of free speech raises a lack of and the level of proper authority interference in the social life online. Without firm regulation and policing, it leaves the responsibility of reporting unjust and harmful media posts to the people who come across it. Even if it is reported, the social media platform or the source of authority does not necessarily take the proper actions to confront the problem that is present. Consequently, people have a contradicting attitude toward freedom of speech and government/authority intervention. In other words, citizens wish and demand for freedom, yet they also request for patrol and protection. Thus, the border that lies between: (1) freedom and monitoring and (2) what is considered appropriate or harmful becomes unclear. As a result of this matter, it enables the abuse of this God-Given freedom. According to Lindy West, these internet trolls weaponiz[e] free speech to maintain cultural dominance. In the view of the fact that the internet allows anonymity, it encourages the trolls, even more, to act as they please. Anonymity functions as an effective mobilizing force for violence (Bailey). For this reason, the internet transforms into a platform for hate speech. In addition to anonymity, the unrestricted and universal use of the internet creates easy targets for the trolls to harass. Likewise, it is advantageous for the internet trolls because they can receive attention and fulfill their desire of causing disturbance/harm to others without exposing their identity. In response to anonymity and the common-use of the internet combined, internet trolling occurs more often. As it becomes more frequent, people start to get used to it or they might pretend to not notice what is happening. When individuals are left with the accountability to filter and protect themselves, it becomes a struggle and pointless effort. By accepting the inevitable, internet trolling not only takes part in the culture of society but also forms a culture itself. According to the research conducted by Monica Anderson, about four-in-ten Americans have experienced online harassment such as physical threats, stalking, sexual harassment, purposeful embarrassment, and etc.. There are over three billion social media users in the world and only 30% of the users have reported the online harassment (Smith and Anderson). Over the course of three years, an estimate of 2.5 million cases have occurred (Buxton and Winters). One notable case of internet trolling, which occurred in 2013, was on Facebook by a man threatening to kill two hundred school children in a mass shooting (Bowcott). These threats were made weeks after the events at Sandy Hook which caused greater panic and fear within the community. The internet troll aimed at the terror and anxiety that resulted from the Sandy Hook school shooting in order to intensify and feed on the public fear. Another extreme example of internet trolling was the targeting of the deceased. This internet troll posted comments on the tribute pages, mocking the two teenagers that had passed away. One of his victims was a fifteen-year-old girl who died from being hit by a train. He not only posted a comment I fell asleep on the track lolz on the tribute page, but he also made a YouTube video after the victim with her face superimposed on the front of a tank engine (Morris). With the freedom of speech that is granted by the First Amendment, there is less consideration for others and little evidence of self-regulation amongst individuals and their interactions with each other. Thus, self-interest outweighs the consequences and effects of one’s actions. Internet trolls can use and twist the concept of freedom to justify their behavior. Although freedom is needed to live life without oppression and act/think differently from other individuals, it does not necessarily guarantee safety and happiness. It raises the question of if there is and will be true, complete independence. As former Justice Robert Jackson stated, The price of freedom of speech or of the press is that we must put up with, and even pay for, a good deal of rubbish (United States v.s Ballard). Along with the freedom of speech comes deviance in the form of internet trolling and the lack of sincerity to counter this problem. In conclusion, the common and frequent usage of the internet, which allows anonymity, enables internet trolls to discover targets and harass/threaten them with ease. Through the manipulation of the First Amendment, trolls can defend their actions as proper and continue because of the confidence instilled in them. Therefore, the First Amendment makes it easier for internet trolls to threaten and cause harm to innocent people around the world using the internet.

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