Free Speech Has Become a Problem
It’s time to consider common-sense limits on speech. As we come to understand that hate speech, misgendering, deadnaming, microaggressions, vernacular appropriation, mansplaining, etc. are actually forms of violence, we should place restrictions on free speech by using gun control laws as a model.
Our current legal framework relies on the “imminent lawless action” test established by Brandenburg v Ohio (1969). Basically, one can say anything as long as it’s not reasonably likely to incite (and result in) an imminent lawless action. This is simply not strong enough by today’s standards.
Absolutists will say that all restrictions to free speech are infringements, but this is simply not the case. Our legal system affords us the ability to impose reasonable limits on speech for the sake of public safety. We’re learning that both racism and bullying are public health crises. Something must be done. And one can still have a right to free speech with common-sense limits.
There are some very reasonable, common-sense steps we can take to ensure that free speech isn’t used by the wrong people. The following steps would help prevent free speech from causing violent harm to our most marginalized and at-risk feelings.
We should alert law enforcement every time someone attempts to share speech that violates common-sense speech laws. Involving law enforcement or a social worker may help prevent a person from going on to find loopholes, like speech between neighbors or private conversations.
It’s bad enough there’s a “gunshow loophole”. The last thing we need is a “free speech loophole”, where citizens would be able to speak without being subject to common-sense speech laws. We’re already seeing underground gun developers make 3D printed Glocks. We certainly don’t want the same with free speech.
Private and Third Party Speech
It’s not enough to simply limit speech on social media, in the school system, or at the workplace. We also must have a mechanism for preventing prohibited speech between private individuals. There should be a government-funded app that citizens could use to report hate speech.
Concerned citizens, coworkers, and classmates could anonymously report questionable speech to local officials. A ‘hear something, say something’ approach, modeled after The Department of Homeland Security’s ‘See something, say something‘ program would be both simple and cost-effective.
Prevent and Silence Speech Violations
Red flag free speech laws should be examined also. We need to use technology like predictive AI to anticipate which persons are most likely to abuse their free speech and cut them off at the pass, using digital surveillance and community policing to impose emergency injunctions.
We must look at the role hate plays in free speech. Concepts like free speech tend to be primarily championed by those seeking to misuse it. We need to call hate what it is: violence. And we need to have the courage to disarm hate by preventing its speech entirely.
Punish Free Speech Facilitators
These laws would of course create a black market for free speech. People would begin to traffic products like sock puppet social media accounts that prohibited speakers could abuse. We would need to implement stiff penalties for anyone trafficking free speech tools.
Life Sentence for Repeat Offenders
Free speech should also be limited to people with clean criminal backgrounds. Convicted speech offenders have high rates of recidivism. A 3-strikes rule would be a fair and effective approach for minor offenses. Serious offenses would mean a lifelong ban on free speech.
If a person granted free speech becomes a violator, it will be important to confiscate their tools of free speech quickly. Phones, tablets, laptops, social media accounts, unmonitored pens, writing pads, etc. would need to be taken by law enforcement. We need funding for this.
Prevention Is Priority
Preventing improper free speech is also critical to success. One should be required to pass a speech safety class before attempting to share free speech, and should also be subject to a 3-5 day waiting period when attempting to exercise free speech.
The free speech tools citizens have access to need to be reconsidered as well. Things like full QWERTY keyboards are capable of producing 80-100 words per minute. Unless you’re a journalist or professor, no one needs this type of hardware. It’s not meant for everyday people.
We should limit the features and capabilities of our speech tools to a less dangerous level. No keyboard needs a shift key, AND an “N” key. Common-sense limits on the capacity of speech producing tools is demonstrably proven to reduce free speech violations.
When our country was founded, no one could have envisioned electronic keyboards capable of firing off so many words in a short period of time. Our current approach is outdated. We need to take a great leap forward.
Free speech is out of control in this country. It’s doing more harm than good. And our friends in more developed countries like the UK and Germany are laughing at us. We need leadership bold enough to enact these common-sense free speech limits today. The future of our Democracy depends on it!