Our Friend & Nemesis, Freedom of Speech

It’s hard maintaining a blog that isn’t really “about” anything. I have no idea how Seinfeld ran for nine seasons. Maybe it was funny or relatable or something?

As I established in my first post, I (like everyone else!) have a lot of thoughts, theories, and opinions, and sometimes it’s nice to share them in a way that allows for more planning and cohesiveness than a conversation at a bar or a comment on someone’s Facebook wall allows.

Before I wrote and published my last post, I collected all my thoughts and ideas on the chosen topic in the Notes app on my phone. Here is a look at the Notes page for this post. It was created back in February:

notes app 2

I was planning to write a post about fact checking, tying it into the hot topic of “fake news.” I wanted to write about how easy it is for false news to travel and to quickly be considered true and factual. I knew I wanted to throw in some silly anecdotes about One Tree Hill (like when Lucas saw Nate kiss Peyton, but didn’t know it was only because she had won a date with him at some school event). I’d also reference basically every sitcom that has ever aired, specifically Friends and How I Met Your Mother. Sitcoms and teen dramas really love to form entire storylines around shared misinformation and/or misinterpretation of events and people.

I also wanted to talk about how gossip spreads in real life, with a focus on how talking openly and honestly, and doing your own research (using credible sources like scientific studies and your one friend who always “keeps the receipts”) is a great way to sort through the garbage and find the information you can trust. Speaking of keeping receipts, I’ve got to mention the best receipt keeper of our day, Mrs. Kim Kardashian West. Girlfriend took down pop culture’s innocent good girl by exposing her lies in the most epic and most 2016 way ever. Props to Kim.

The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Backstage & Audience

Maybe we should also consider the psychology behind the concept of actually choosing to believe certain things. This can be applied to the profoundly personal – sometimes you believe something only because you deeply want it and need it to be true to keep your life together – and to the political – sometimes you may subconsciously (or consciously, I mean, 2016 was a weird year) ignore facts and truths because they don’t support your opinion. Hi, climate change!

These thoughts gathered storage dust in my iPhone until I had an experience that shook things up a bit for me. I was engaging in a Facebook debate (Ugh. I know this is never not a bad decision, but I’m blaming the pregnancy hormones in this case – ah, sneak attack with the fetus announcement there) about Trump’s energy and coal policies, and things quickly went left, as they tend to do during these types of conversations.

Seriously, when will we, as a society, outgrow this phase? Some people (raising my hand!) just can’t scroll past a political debate without engaging and then inevitably cycling through the emotional roller coaster that typically begins with rage and ends with regret (foreshadowing!).

FB debate meme

In a moment of blind rage, I made a petty remark to someone on the opposing side. Wait – posting something on Facebook in a fit of emotion – this all seems so familiar. Maybe my blog does have a theme. The person I was targeting chose to – quite literally – tattle to my husband. This action merely made my eyes roll out of my head and across the floor (harmless – happens multiple times a day), but the context of this tattle tale is what actually made me see red. He told my husband that he was relaying my comment “out of respect” to him (my husband).

Insert record scratch. 

And so a blog post was finally born.

I am an adult. Only I have the control and power over what I choose to say on Facebook, in conversations with coworkers, in small talk with the cashier at Trader Joe’s, or in texts with my mom. My husband does not Nobody owns me or is responsible for censoring me or warning me when I’ve gone too far (though, being the sweet pacifist he is, my husband does try to help me avoid self-destruction). And when I do go too far and shit hits the fan, it should (and does) fall entirely on me to clean up the stinky mess. Ditto for you all!

In my short time blogging (what is this – my 4th post?), I’ve already learned about what it’s like to try and clean up a shitty mess made of my own words. In that situation, however, it wasn’t until after my ill-fated attempt at cleaning up that I realized I wasn’t responsible for the mess. The shit I was trying to scrub away was someone else’s, and it was staining their floors, not mine.

In addition to being a regular adult in control of my own words, I am a writer – this is a dangerous combination. I’m also an atypical writer, in that nobody asks me or pays me to write anything. I choose to publish my writing on my own, and I have no editorial oversight board nitpicking to decide what ultimately ends up on my blog. Still, I don’t want to be sued, so I have to be careful about how I share experiences and anecdotes that involve real life people. (I also keep all my receipts.) If I want the 8 people who read this blog to know who I am referencing in a story, I will make the facts glaringly obvious. I may even run the post by these people first (Hi, Husband! Thanks for approving the story above). If you’re worried about being called out in someone’s totally under-the-radar blog, imagine how John Mayer or Harry Styles must feel (another Taylor reference for you all).

Freedom of speech seems to be a tricky thing lately, doesn’t it? You can now be accused of being too politically correct and killing the free speech vibes, but you can also directly quote someone and then be accused of spreading lies to promote your own agenda. (Hey guys, stop wondering if the latter example is you – that was a political reference).  News outlets (constantly rushing to be the first to publish something and – surprise – sometimes skipping the fact checking) are so often having to redact statements and make corrections. Our friend the 1st Amendment is going through some trying times!

Redactions and corrections sometimes come too late, and the misinformation has already impacted the opinions and decisions of countless people. We saw this happen with the UVA rape article in Rolling Stone, as well as when Monica borrowed money from Joey and he thought it was for a boob job. It can happen when your great aunt shares misinformation about Planned Parenthood on Facebook and it can happen when you think you see your friend’s boyfriend’s picture on Tinder and text her before double checking the profile.

speech meme

With great privilege comes great responsibility. The 1st Amendment grants us a really powerful right (well, technically a few rights) – one that affects our lives in innumerable ways. I don’t have any advice on how to best wield this privilege in your public life. Just kidding, I obviously do – stop posting articles from fake news sites and please proofread all your work e-mails before sending. I also have some wisdom to share about freedom of speech and your personal life. To avoid hurting others, check your sources and always think before you speak, text, or post. Yes, a simple principle our parents and teachers tried to instill in us for years, but still so, so tough (see: every anecdote I’ve ever shared about my personal use of Facebook). To avoid hurting yourself, know your values and principles, and let these guide your interactions with others. Don’t let someone else tell you what your words mean, be picky of whom you allow to speak on your behalf, and don’t ever feel like you have to defend the words of someone else if you don’t agree with them.

The 1st Amendment (okay, and social media) gives you power to share through your words, but you give power to your words.

may the odds