Rooting out hate speech doesn't involve compromising free speech

An association of national advocacy groups is calling to limit the speech of college students due to inappropriate posts on forms of social media. Their platform involves banning YikYak and other anonymous sites due to inappropriate posts ranging from sexual harassment to racism and giving colleges authority to punish students for their speech, according to The Washington Post.

While hate speech is not condoned, and moves need to be made in order further mature as a society, the First Amendment protects the public’s right to freedom of speech, even if it is offensive or hurtful. In order for the First Amendment to protect your freedom of speech, it also must protect those with opposing opinions. The advocacy groups mention threats of violence, attacks and even rape, which should be held as a crime. However, there are ways to go about prosecuting those who post such messages, assuming YikYak divulges phone records to local authorities, rather than imposing campus-wide censorship of certain social media.

The First Amendment contains several exceptions in the freedom of speech and the Supreme Court has made clear that these exceptions are narrowly defined. In R.A.V v. City of St. Paul, it was decided that restrictions based on content of speech could not be exercised. In Street v. New York, the Court decided that offensiveness is not congruent to fighting words.

Legally, this attempt at restricting speech is most likely based on Morse v. Frederick, where the Supreme Court upheld the right of the school to suspend a student for holding up a “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” sign. However, in this case, students are entrusted to the teachers and administration in high school. Being in college, we are no longer minors, and so there is a certain level of freedom that comes with that. Also, Tinker v. Des Moines has the Court stating that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the school house gate.”

According to The Washington Post, the groups are calling for censorship of certain websites as well. This is a time consuming futile attempt to keep students from accessing websites through the school’s Wi-Fi when they could simply do so through cell phone data plans.

What the advocacy groups need to understand is that by banning these sites, they won’t be furthering their agenda to spread awareness on racism, sexual harassment and violence. They are simply utilizing a short-term resolution to a centuries-long problem. The issue behind these vindictive messages isn’t the platform on which students display these messages, but rather their mind set that causes them to do so. Simply removing the platform not only infringes on other students’ right to speech, but also does not address the problem.