Taking it Global: Online Freedom of Speech versus the 6th Amendment

PBS.kids.org says, “Online bullying often called online harassment is a serious issue, and it’s getting more common.”

In fact, no one on the Internet—especially those that are transparent—is safe from an anonymous online bully, who uses the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution as a shield to abuse the character and/or reputation of individuals that are not anonymous online. For example, authors, who may also be publishers, often find their reputations as authors/publishers damaged by the comments of anonymous online bullies.

I have been doing extensive ongoing research on this issue due to my own run-in with a pack of these anonymous bullies recently (and a few years ago), and I have discovered that this is a problem that permeates Amazon (in addition to other sites such as Goodreads) affecting possibly hundreds and even thousands of people due to the fact that Amazon cannot, at this time, police itself efficiently or adequately to protect transparent people—mostly authors—that have become victims of alleged malicious and obviously premeditated attacks by anonymous people that demonstrate by their own words alleged sociopath-narcissist tendencies.

I have also come to the conclusion that we cannot blame Amazon.com for this toxic environment. Amazon is also a victim due to the “freedom of speech” dilemma. However, the 1st Amendment does not offer total protection from abusers.

1st Amendment Text: “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.”

Study these 1st Amendment words carefully. Nowhere does it say in the 1st Amendment that a private sector business and social network like Amazon.com cannot limit freedom of speech on its site. The key words are “Congress shall make no law …”, and Amazon.com does not make the laws.

In addition, The Freedom Forum clearly says that the First Amendment does not say anyone can say anything at any time, and the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an interpretation of speech without limits.

The Supreme Court has ruled regarding libel and slander: “Was the statement false, or put in a context that makes true statements misleading? You do not have a constitutional right to tell lies that damage or defame the reputation of a person or organization.” Source: Freedom Forum.org

The virtual world is a new legal arena and the courts are dealing with hundreds of libel law suits monthly and, true to form, legislation at the state and national level is moving slowly as this hot button issue over “freedom of speech” gives cause for caution. Our elected representatives do not want to be smeared with accusations that they are limiting freedom of speech so they must tread cautiously or lose votes.

However, there is another side to this issue that I haven’t seen expressed yet.  Freedom of Speech is only one of the rights/protections that the US Constitution offers its citizens. What everyone seems to have overlooked is the Confrontation Clause of the 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The Confrontation Clause has its roots in both English common law, protecting the right of cross-examination, and Roman law, which guaranteed persons accused of a crime the right to look their accusers in the eye. In noting the right’s long history, the United States Supreme Court has cited Acts of the Apostles 25:16, which reports the Roman governor Porcius Festus, discussing the proper treatment of his prisoner Paul: “It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man up to die before the accused has met his accusers face-to-face, and has been given a chance to defend himself against the charges.” It has also cited Shakespeare’s Richard II, Blackstone’s treatise, and statutes.

By allowing people to hide behind an anonymous identity on the Internet and allowing them to write negative reviews/comments and even level ad-hominem attacks against easy to identify individuals who are transparent, the 6th Amendment rights of these transparent people have been violated because one cannot look his or her accuser/s face-to-face and eye-to-eye.

After all, how can any author, for example, who is transparent and working under his or her real name, defend against alleged anonymous bullies on Amazon.com (and similar sites such as Goodreads)—that leave negative reviews or even YES votes to support those anonymous, negative reviews/comments—and have a chance to defend his or her damaged reputation by facing his or her critic face-to-face and eye-to-eye?

In this example, knowing the history of your critic might be vital if it is discovered that an anonymous person leaving negative reviews/comments has a hidden history of this sort of behavior on the Internet spreading criticism, lies and ad-hominem insults in addition to using what is known as SockPuppets to gain an unfair advantage thus establishing premeditation—the law says that premeditation is the contemplation of a crime well enough in advance to show deliberate intent to commit the crime; forethought.

In conclusion, because going to court to resolve this hot button issue may be too costly and beyond the average citizen’s ability to pay for justice, this issue may be open to a lawyer or law firm to take pro bono or as a class action suit on a consignment and/or contingency basis. The defendant in this sort of class action case might be a consumer, social networking sites such as Amazon.com—an online community similar to a town, city, state or nation and therefore held responsible to uphold the protections offered by the U.S. Constitution to its Internet citizens.

In this case, a transparent victim online, such as an author or other individual, should have the right to demand knowing who his or her anonymous critic/accuser is that may be smearing his or her good name and/or product. After all, the online environment has created a court of public opinion that if unchecked may damage the reputation and well being of an innocent victim.

Of course, there may be a simple solution to avoid having this issue reach and be defined by the United States Supreme Court: When a transparent person claims his or her 6th Amendment rights when confronted by an alleged online anonymous bully, Amazon.com—for example—automatically provides an online form that the anonymous person may fill out revealing his or her real-life name, location and information leading to his or her online history that could then be verified before publication, or the anonymous person may decide to delete his or her review/comment and remain anonymous. If the anonymous person refuses to cooperate, Amazon may refuse to offer them a forum on its site and remove every review/comment made by that anonymous individual. Eventually, even the SockPuppets an anonymous person may have created might be revealed and vanish under such a policy.

To discover more about this issue visit:

Dealing with Internet Bullies

The Internet is not a Safe Haven for being Anonymous and Behaving Badly

Is this an example of Defamation?—not protected by the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Who’s behaving badly? A culture of arrogance

Ginmar: Alleged Cyber Bully, Troll and Stalker?

Found Guilty because of Reckless and False Speech – based on true events

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

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6 thoughts on “Taking it Global: Online Freedom of Speech versus the 6th Amendment

  1. Pingback: Freedom to Be Oneself | Life is Mysterious

  2. Pingback: Who’s behaving badly? A culture of arrogance | Lloyd Lofthouse

  3. Pingback: Justices set limits on public employees’ speech rights. | Gregory Robinson

  4. The First Amendment places restrictions on government action. It does not restrict what Amazon can do.
    The right to confrontation is a right in criminal law, not civil law. It too does not apply to the comment of a private person on the internet.
    I think you are right in saying that many bloggers are irresponsible and some of them are nuts and that ti is a real problem.

    • David,

      “The right to confrontation is a right in criminal law, not civil law. It too does not apply to the comment of a private person on the internet.”

      How about the Supreme Court? When the nine justices hear Constitutional issues, don’t they attempt to apply what the Founding Fathers intended in each case?

      In this case, if the Founding Fathers wrote the 6th Amendment with the intent of making sure citizens have a Constitutional right to know the identity of individuals that are slandering, libeling and/or defaming them, then wouldn’t the Founding Fathers be against protection for people on the Internet hiding behind an anonymous ID and possibly even deeper through a SockPuppet?

      In addition, we are still defining laws and how they will apply to the Internet.

      I’m sure that the Founding Fathers could not have conceived of a virtual and global social-consumer environment linked to the Internet where the entire world can read libelous comments about individuals they have never met and may never meet.

      In the real world, if someone defames another individual or his business, then it is easy to hire a lawyer and go to court but because of the virtual world, that is made very expense and difficult to do in effect robbing citizens of one element of his or her 6th Amendment rights to be able to confront the person defaming them face-to-face and eye-to-eye.

      In this case, is there any way to predict how the nine justices of the US Supreme Court would react if a case like this ever reached them? Because they are not elected and are appointed for life, public opinion may have no influence over their decisions and of course a lot would ride on how the case was presented to them.

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