Winston Churchill put it succinctly, “Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.”
Whether you are to the left of Joseph Stalin or to the right of Adolph Hitler, listen up. You have the right to have an opinion. You have a right to voice that opinion. But when that opinion is based on your emotions and has nothing to do with actual facts (remember facts? Defined by Merriam-Webster as, "something that truly exists or happens: something that has actual existence. A true piece of information."), others have the right to criticize and challenge, even attack your assertion as false.
As a journalist I have to know the difference between a fact and a Wikipidiot spouting his or her opinion, between hate speech disguised as political discourse and the truth. There’s not a line drawn pensively in the sand but a chasm chiseled firmly in granite between fact and opinion.
Just the facts, ma'am.
Somehow the freedom to say anything without challenge on the Internet has people believing that they have a constitutional right to make up dreck, or repost something that someone else made up and call it a fact. What’s more is they further believe that no one has the right to call them on it. This is not the case. Of all our rights so frequently defended, why don’t more people exercise that sweet right to remain silent? As Calvin Coolidge once said, “No one ever hanged a man for something he didn't say.”
Furthermore, if you post something in the form of a question, you are inviting an answer, even if it is a question of opinion. Most of us were raised that talking about religion or politics is rude. Guess what? It still is. Of course there is a difference between posting a political or religious fact which benefits us all, as the cornerstone of democracy is a well-informed and engaged population, and posting hate speech disguised as fact or opinion.
Whose judgment matters?
We live in a world where a celebrity’s opinion, even a mouth-breathing, washed-up actor with an IQ of a baboon who ate lead paint chips as a child, is given equal weight to experts who have spent half their lives studying a subject. We live in a point in history where we can say anything to people all over the world, and we chose to share hateful lies and historical facts written by liars and half wits.
So if you chose to exercise your right to free speech, remember I’m out here ready to pounce, my poison pen filled to the brim with venom and vitriol. I’ll close with this quote, a poem ostensibly written by an anonymous Internet friend who sent it to me, “Simple reaches out to touch 'til he reaches too far and too much.” Too many of us have already reached too far and too much and need to, if only for a moment, exercise our right to remain silent.