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Speech against the law on Social Media


Actual intent to carry out viol­ence can be diffi­cult to discern from the angry, hyper­bolic — and consti­tu­tion­ally protec­ted — speech and inform­a­tion commonly found on social media.

When the police pounded the door before dawn at a home in northwest Germany, a bleary-eyed young man in his boxer shorts answered. The officers asked for his father, who was at work.

They told him that his 51-year-old father was accused of violating laws against online hate speech, insults and misinformation. He had shared an image on Facebook with an inflammatory statement about immigration falsely attributed to a German politician. “Just because someone rapes, robs or is a serious criminal is not a reason for deportation,” the fake remark said.

The police then scoured the home for about 30 minutes, seizing a laptop and tablet as evidence, prosecutors said.

At that exact moment in March, a similar scene was playing out at about 100 other homes across Germany, part of a coordinated nationwide crackdown that continues to this day. After sharing images circulating on Facebook that carried a fake statement, the perpetrators had devices confiscated and some were fined.

Hate speech, extremism, misogyny and misinformation are well-known byproducts of the internet. But the people behind the most toxic online behavior typically avoid any personal major real-world consequences. Most Western democracies like the United States have avoided policing the internet because of free speech rights, leaving a sea of slurs, targeted harassment and tweets telling public figures they’d be better off dead. At most, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter remove a post or suspend their account.

German authorities have brought charges for insults, threats and harassment. The police have raided homes, confiscated electronics and brought people in for questioning. Judges have enforced fines worth thousands of dollars each and, in some cases, sent offenders to jail. The threat of prosecution, they believe, will not eradicate hate online, but push some of the worst behavior back into the shadows.

In doing so, they have flipped inside out what, to American ears, it means to protect free speech. The authorities in Germany argue that they are encouraging and defending free speech by providing a space where people can share opinions without fear of being attacked or abused.

That was in Germany. In the U.S., however. Authorities can only monitor your account and make an arrest on probable cause (threats) or ask the platform for your account information (which they will give up voluntarily, then can be used against you in court).

But with such action from law enforcement, you have to be on their radar.

Government surveillance of the social media accounts of private citizens has skyrocket since the unrest on January 6, 2021. In the name of fighting terrorism, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) routinely review the social media accounts of people with no prior criminal activity. These investigations can be initiated even when there is no factual basis for believing someone has committed a crime (not to mention A.I. surveillance).

Due to the first amendment, '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'.

And other than Copyright, Decency or Defamation and privacy lawsuits.

Social networking sites often have greater protection under the law than their users.

So. In America, hate speech is not against the law. But it can get you in trouble... eventually...somehow...which is a good thing...I think.

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