Freedom of Speech; Use it Wisely


The recent Google quandary involving that most unfortunate rendering of Mrs. Obama led to many interesting articles about the invisible line between freedom of speech and profiting from indecency against another person (or group of persons).

Among the more intriguing conclusions is that those who exercise their freedom of speech should do so at the price of their anonymity.  As such, the community can likewise exercise their freedom of speech in response…sort of a market incentive system, it seems.

So what exactly would happen if the offensive content were accompanied by the name, address, business, and email of the person who created it?  How would their personal freedom be enhanced or restricted based on their contribution to the “self-discovery” of society?  How does a social medium enhance or restrict the inalienable rights so preserved in our nation’s constitution by our infinitely wise founding fathers?

I suppose that the founding fathers also had an issue with anonymity.  By virtue of their signature on the declaration of independence, they were willing to pay for their freedom of speech with their lives. This singular act is what empowered the document most. They bet their skin to preserve their oppressor’s freedom of speech regarding the same matter of independence.  Today we call that courage but in most communities it is common practice:

I learned in high school never to talk down on someone unless you were willing to meet them behind the bleachers one day.  I learned that gossip is just as bad as originating the offensive commentary oneself.  As an adult, I learned that if I did dirty deals, I was subject to prosecution by a community not only the individual who I had harmed.  This is the law of the land – any land.

Social media, like a community,  is a deeply intimate environment.  Anonymity is not an option – if you say it, you own it – mathematical algorithm or not.  Like the gossiper, Google and anyone else who re-posted the content hold some responsibility if they transferred the image while also citing the 1st amendment of an anonymous author.  Fortunately, the solution is simple: incorporate identity tags on content so that traceability to the source is preserved for community review – and rigorously defend the anonymity of those who access content.

It seems that we have it backwards – it may be easier for posters to track the source of viewers than it is for viewers to track the source of anonymous content.   Herein lays an opportunity for game-changing innovation.  As social media begins to act as a de-facto financial system, where people can profit on the reputation of others, social vetting may be at the core of the monetization strategy that the entire social media platform continues to struggle with…sort of a market incentive system, it seems.

Freedom of speech is a two way street, and ironically, the monetization secret may be buried in anonymity.

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