Saturday, March 10, 2012

DeFAME, They'll Remember Your NAME Forever. . .

I’ve blogged about freedom of speech many times before, and although I’ve advised people of the dangers of what they say, it appears as though my words have fallen on blind readers.  It has gotten to the point, or rather, is at the point, where some just make blatant statements and then turn around and say they were “misinterpreted” or they didn’t “mean to upset people,” when in actuality that is exactly what their irresponsible words have managed to do.

Where do we draw the line between spewing nasty and inconsiderate words from our mouths, and, just stating our personal opinions?  From the looks of things, so many people are up-in-arms over the recent insensitive remarks from Rush Limbaugh, when, to me, those same individuals need to read the Tweets I see or review some people’s Updates on Facebook.  It’s almost jaw-dropping at times, and yet, who is holding these people responsible?  Where is the censorship?  Who should be in charge of the censoring?  How much responsibility does Twitter and Facebook have for allowing users to say whatever the hell comes to their minds—and to go as far as to encourage their users to engage in such activity?!—which brings me to my next point!

With Social Media at an all-time high, and millions upon millions of people using these sites, is it any wonder that defamation lawsuits have risen within the last couple of years, and I suspect it’s going to rise even further.  Often times I hear people speaking in general that any time a person speaks “ill” of someone else in the media, that individual should sue for defamation of character.  Humph, I’ve often thought about that myself because it just seems so careless of those who enjoy vomiting their poisonous words out into the universe with total disregard for whom they hurt—wouldn’t it be great for them to be sued for having done so?  So, the question now becomes, can a person sue over defamation of character because someone tweeted or wrote a vulgar status on Facebook?  Possibly, if harm has been done to the person allegedly defamed.

I’ve learned that there is a thing entitled Defamation per se wherein the plaintiff does not have to prove the statements harmed his/her reputation.  Examples of this would be someone alleges serious sexual misconduct; serious criminal misbehavior; and/or a serious loathsome disease.  Our laws need to be seriously reviewed with respect to Social Media and how it relates to this latest splurge of technology.  And not only does one have to worry about libel defamation  through a possible Tweet or Updated Status, one can be defamed through blog posts, as well. (Please note: libel means ‘written’ and slander means ‘oral’).

In more recent news, I suppose we’re going to learn rather quickly just how responsible these corporate Social Media sites are because one particular Twitter user has sued the giant media entity for having been defamed by Tweets that he alleges damaged his reputation, in some way, by being wrongfully accused of writing a “hate” blog.  This case may be found

There are several shock jocks that have made comments about various people and one could argue they are doing it for the sole purpose of getting attention (which I would tend to agree), make waves and stir emotion, which is why they are called “shock jocks!”  But, on the other hand, I used to protect the rights of shock jocks to make their comments and statements because of freedom of speech, so I’ve been torn in recent years as to where I stand on the issues.  It’s one thing to open your mouth and just say vulgar things about a particular subject, but it’s an entirely different matter to spread “hate” by using your forum or soap box, if you will, to make excuses to speak terribly of another human being, all for the sake of doing it because you do have “freedom of speech!”

Again, I ask, where the hell do we draw the line from stating one’s opinion, as to having the freedom to do so, from just stating vulgarities because you have the freedom to do so?  Too much anymore, people hide behind the whole freedom of speech thing as a way to be cruel and nasty to others, wherein they feel it’s their God-given right to do this, and I think it’s high time the law reflects the new way we live because this has gotten extremely out of hand.  Case in point, recently a federal court judge sent out one of the most vicious emails to his “friends” via his official government-issued email about President Obama and his ‘deceased’ mother.  I will not quote what this supposed “joke” email stated, because by doing so, it just further negates the ignorance brought about from him, but for a judge to say along these lines, this is something he ‘normally’ wouldn’t do, (which tells me he would sometimes engage in sending out emails, such as this, to his friends) but even by his standards, he hoped it would touch their hearts, as much as it did his and then he hit the send button which is a travesty if ever I saw one.  Feel free to sign the petition linked here to join me in my quest for his immediate removal from the bench.  People for the American Way.

Frankly speaking, to say you didn’t mean any harm or it was just a joke, can no longer be used as an excuse anymore!  People know all too well what it is they are saying; who they are targeting; and the exact reaction others are going to have, based off of their comments.  Just because you have the freedom to say what you want, doesn’t make it right.  There is a certain amount of responsibility one must possess, especially if those persons hold a public or government office—or just being in the public eye period!  When you have a public forum, you must be sensible and responsible in what it is you say to your constituents, viewers and/or listeners.  It’s because of the power you possess by being placed in those positions where you have to be unbiased and non-judgmental, and more importantly, responsible.  Even if you feel the urge to speak your mind, you are held to a different set of rules, and keeping your opinions to yourself, should always be first and foremost—you, of all people, should exercise constraint and control.  Using freedom of speech to hide behind your ignorant ass comments is just that, ignorant and a poor excuse to say something mean—and then act cowardly as if you didn’t realize the weight your words would carry!

When I first learned of the whole “nappy headed-hos” comment one shock jock stated back in 2007, I laughed—seriously.  First off, my thinking was, “I’m not a nappy headed-ho” so who the hell was he referring to?  I think some comments you have to really step outside of what is being said and decide whether or not this is something that “pertains” to you particularly.  And clearly, since I have never been nor will I ever be a “nappy headed-ho” I wouldn’t take offense to an ignorant ass comment such as that.  But the women of the Rutgers Basketball team did just that—took offense to what this jock stated.  Was it a nice thing for him to say, absolutely not, but then again, why would anyone take offense to something you know you are not?  It was a cheap shot at the women, regardless, and very hurtful to say the least!  What I think bothered most people was the excuse of something along the lines of rappers call their women nappy headed-hos, so why get mad at me?  I didn’t make this up, black people did.  Ummph, and that excuse was supposed to be acceptable and make it right!

At that time, as much as it pained me that this individual made such a statement, I still protected his right to do so.  Was there any wiggle room for defamation in this case?  I would say no because where is the fact based?  There wasn’t any, but the damage was already done.  The seed had been planted, and the public watched it grow into one of America’s largest debates.  Unfortunately, this was the first of many, which is the reason I have changed my views on freedom of speech theories because too many public figureheads use this as a way to say vulgar things to others, so I want the defamation laws to reflect and support those who have been defamed in the Social Media arena.  Should Twitter and Facebook be held responsible for their users’ content?  I won’t answer that question, but I leave it for you to decide. 

I was always taught that if I had nothing nice to say, keep my damn mouth shut, and I wonder what happened to that—oh wait. . .I know what happened, Social Media happened!  We’re encouraged to speak our minds, put our thoughts into print, say what we like (regardless if what is stated hurts others), give our locations, update our statuses, join groups, be friends, find followers, email, talk, talk, talk, and there isn’t any laws that I’m aware of that protects us from this beast.  After reviewing a great deal of defamation law and all of its subparts, this is where I realized the laws need to reflect current events, because as the laws are written now, they don’t cover this new wave of technology, but I see some are finding ground with lawsuits.

In time, as I mentioned above, I expect to see many more defamation suits against Social Media giants, and more and more court time being used for this ridiculous and outrageous forum.  My motto is “I’ve learned to ‘respect’ the power of ‘words’, this is why I’m an author” and that’s the God’s truth.  You all think I write these words to you for the sake of writing my weekly blog post, which is part true, but genuinely, I am trying to educate you as to what is going on in the times we live in.  You need to know what your rights are, how to go about searching for the proper information so that you are better equipped to deal with the issues that stand before you today.  I cannot stress this enough that you need to be fully aware of the things you say on your favorite sites, because it can and most likely will, come back and bite you seriously in the ass, and hurt you where it hurts most, your pocket, or worse, time in jail.

You may think this is all fun and games, but it can seriously land you in some hot water that you don’t want to find yourself in.  Being sued under any circumstance is costly, time-consuming and extremely exhausting.  The big Social Media sites have teams of lawyers to represent them, but do you?  THINK before you POST!  THINK before you press SEND!  As I’ve mentioned to you before, the content in which you upload on these sites, you do not own!  When are some of you going to realize this?  You don’t own any of the content regardless if your personal pictures are on these sites, and notes, and countless other things you list there.  The site you use owns your content, not you!  And, if you think that’s bad enough, I just read recently that Twitter sold their last two years worth of Tweets to some ad firm who wants to target us for promotional usage.  So, if you think what you post is private, guess again ‘cause you lose!

Kimberly Ranee Hicks, Author/Poet
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