Should we reassess the 1st amendment?

Across the US, we benefit from the 1st amendment to protect our rights to free speech. This has helped free press, freedom for political ideas, freedom of religion and simply our basic freedom to think and speak. With the rise of a lying president, the 1st amendment is now seen to protect lies and conspiration theories also. What is the situation today and what can be done to tackle the problem of disinformation?

After five years of campaigns based in lies and alternative facts that have eroded confidence in institutions, science and research, the US population has never been so divided. There is now a clear rift between science-based believers and a doubtful based population. What seemed to be simple evidence to sustain a fact now will be attacked by groups of citizen “protectors” with some “scientist” proclaiming manipulation or conspiracies from authorities. No matter how ridiculous the claims can be, vast amount of citizen believes these reports. The rise of QANON and other forms of conspiracies theorist seem impossible to stop, no matter what evidence is given.

The reasons behind these conspiration theories are complex and varies among individuals, but a basic profile emerges in those groups. We notice a lower education, a stronger religious background and mostly white Americans communities.  For the science-based mind, it sounds as ignorant people, but this is quite untrue. Some very smart minds can be ignoring truth as it goes against their deepest understanding of life or belief. Why so? Basically, because of religion.

  • First, generally Christians believes that no matter what is done to earth, God will repair. That concept will kill any attempt in saving the planet. Global warming cannot be true in their eyes as God will always repair the earth and therefor no need to change our ways. Same goes for this pandemic.
  • Second, in the Evangelist world, God is on their side. No matter what happens God will support them through a Republican program as the Democrats are seen as anti-God, pro-abortion and LGBTQ followers. When Ex-president Trump rose to power, although he was by far the worst possible Christian (more anti-Christ than Christ like), as he represented Republicans, he was trusted blindly for his speech and actions against Democrats.
  • Third, the Christian groups are used to being lied to. Believers are condition to believe even unbelievable things and scared into questioning their dogma. They also have a strong condescending approach to any outsiders.

    All these reason pushes us to wonder if the 1st amendment is adapted to our times. How can we progress in building our nation if we cannot trust our institution or where we get our news? Can we protect the freedom of speech and stop falsehood? Mainly The 1st amendment protects false claims. We all have the right to be deceptive except in commercial situation or responding to the state (FBI, IRS...) In clear, the 1st amendment protects lies. When lies are intended only to a few people and have no big consequences, that should not be a big problem, but when lies are proclaimed by an elected official, a president or even a TV network, that could (and will in time) cause a civil war. Shouldn’t there be some kind of limit or structure to stop the spread of deliberate lies? Here again, there may be a few solutions:

    In the political world: house representatives, senators and white house administration should be accountable if they make deliberate lies, mis-leading messages that could feed into conspiration theories, especially if those lies could endanger democracy, provoke riots or endanger individuals. Freedom of speech should come with responsibility to give as much as possible an accurate statement. If those elected politician desire to validate their freedom of speech, they should do so with a warning that they are not being truthful. If they insist on lying when facts clearly show their wrong, there should be consequences on their mandate. They should lose the right to represent Americans.

    In the press or any media, freedom of speech should be of course protected, but if a media has large coverage, it should always be well indicated if any of their articles has not an honest point of view. For example, Fox news has multiple times ignored clear lies and have amplified those lies through their coverage. They should be forced to have clear visible warning on their screen to show a lack of truth in their reporting. Freedom of speech is preserved and lies are marked. Unproven news should be very clearly stated as nonfactual.

    In religion, the right of freedom of speech is particularly important, but obvious and clear lies should also be identified. Without attacking any religious group or ideology, there should be an entity that could point out clear none-dogma discrepancies. Anything published should then be held accountable for any deliberate lies it includes unless it is highlighted as nonfactual.

    Protecting American people from falsehood should be a major goal in the future but It has already been judged by the supreme court that: “First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end. The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought.”
    With that in mind, it is evident that going back on the 1st amendment will be a very risky task for any administration but failing to do so will risk further dividing Americans and will inevitably bring a very dark era to the country. On the opposite side, setting saine limits to free speech to tackle harmful lies could bring back a more trusting environment to all. Without condemning free speech, we could condemn deliberate lies in any large-scale discourse.