Friday, May 28, 2010

Rand Paul & the Trolls

Two recent news stories ("Why Rand Paul Is Right … and Wrong" by Julian Sanchez in Newsweek and "Website Editors Strive To Rein In Nasty Comments" by Laura Sydell on NPR) clicked together in my mind and got me thinking about the First Amendment, "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."

Any honest Libertarian or Strict Constructionist would be correct to assert that Rand Paul is right and that the First Amendment clearly protects bigotry and hate-speech.

On the other hand, the First Amendment seems to be about tolerance. That the Amendment grants tolerance of intolerance is ironic to say the least.

Like in our recent look at the Price's relationship with Value, a lot has changed since the 1770s. A lot of the same factors that have skewed the aforementioned relationship have changed the media of free speech. For most of the history of the press, the press has been an elite group, and one had to be talented and/or wealthy to have one's opinions published. Gradually, this state has changed. Today, requirements are minimal for one to be heard on the internet, television, radio, and newspapers.

As Sydell noted, only a small percentage of the comments posted on websites is worthwhile or constructive while a large percentage is hateful or destructive.

Clearly absolute free speech is undesirable. Libel and slander are verboten. But how can we allow the good, constructive, rabble-rousing, and humorous without allowing the bad, destructive, brainwashing, and banal? Sydell's suggestion of selective publication is appealing, but who decides what can and cannot be published?

I do not have a solution or even a suggestion as to how to deal with harmful speech. I had always been 100% behind absolute free speech. Suddenly, after just two news stories in just a few days, I am not so supportive anymore.