With most Americans expecting the planned inauguration demonstrations this week to look nothing like the siege of the Capitol, questions arise about unrestrained free speech, long celebrated as a contribution to society by First Amendment theorists, no matter how ugly and hateful.
Particularly too soon after the riot, the optics could be alarming, with the possibility of protestors—many like those who stormed the Capitol—screaming, or worse, at soldiers and police standing guard outside the Capitol’s razor wire-topped fences.
Is this kind of phrase “good” for America permitted? An old principle of the First Amendment, known as the safety valve, notes that encouraging organisations to express themselves releases pressure, ensuring that objectionable ideas are not pushed underground where they could spill over into violence.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant”Sunlight is the best disinfectant”I don’t agree with what you say, but I’ll defend your right to say it.”I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.
Not all First Amendment scholars, especially after the deadly episode at the Capitol, are buying the theory of the safety valve. After hateful online discourse dovetailed with legislators and activists delivering speeches to revived-up crowds that marched to the nation’s legislative headquarters, they question whether radical speech needs further restrictions as it is inextricably linked to violence at the national legislative headquarters.
Joan Donovan, research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, said, “We have to pay attention to the way that tech platforms are shaping discourse and the way technology moves fringe ideas into the mainstream,”
“The idea we would somehow get out of it by not paying attention to what’s going on and opening the floodgates to more speech misunderstands the phenomenon of online platforms and misunderstands the technology.”