The 1st Amendment and the Internet
The United States Constitution has been under debate since the original constitutional convention. It has been scrutinized, analyzed, amended and evolved to form the rules and regulations used to control the United States. The constant debate over the First Amendment has only inflamed by the onslaught of the internet. The Constitution states:
“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 to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Originally, this Amendment was primarily used in regards to the television and radio media, although today’s radio and television programs are being subjected to a certain limit of governmental control in order keep offensive programs away from American public, the government cannot regulate a show simply based on the content or opinions stated.
When it comes to the internet, the Government is seeking to provide the same amount of protection to minors, without censoring content completely. Today anyone can say anything to everyone with the help of the World Wide Web, and how can any single government sensor a global outlet? This reality has forced the Supreme Court to determine what the “freedom of speech” actually entails. Should the Internet be regulated and restricted by government in order to protect today’s children from offensive content, or does this abridge an individual’s right to free speech?
Player #1: Freedom of Speech
In order to understand this debate, readers must understand what the First Amendment covers. The freedom of speech is a right of the citizens of the United States, but is not exclusive. For example, some forms of speech are completely outlawed in the US such as fraudulent advertising, child pornography, obscenity, discrimination, libel, etc. The government may regulate or censor speech if there is a major national, or public concern. But the censorship becomes difficult in an entity like the internet. It cannot be controlled. Child pornography is one of the largest growing problems on the internet, and while that is illegal and can be enforced, adult pornography is not illegal, and is available to anyone, including minors. There are multiple hate-crime websites, discrimination, talk of terrorism, bombs and obscenities across millions of webpages. While the content is not necessarily illegal, it may not be deemed as appropriate either. So where does the government step in, and where is it up the individual to monitor themselves?
The internet is the world’s largest playground that currently has absolutely no regulation system. Some individuals think the internet needs to have the same sensors as the radio and television, but in a world-wide playing field, the rules change. Others feel that the internet falls under the First Amendment rights of citizens and should not be regulated because that would lead to the government controlling what people read or view. The citizens of the United States, have the right to be free from governmental control that inhibits thoughts, ideas, and free expression, so where is the happy medium?
There have been two recent attempts by Congress to limit material on the Internet and reduce the availability of indecent material on the Internet being viewed by minors. Neither of these attempts were fully successful and where there is a loophole, someone will squeeze through.
Unfortunately there is no good answer to this debate. Both sides have compelling arguments as to why the internet is a dangerous playground that should be censored for the protection of others while the other side holds on to their right to say and view whatever they desire.
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