Early morning last Friday, a Cottonwood user started posting a series of comments on a story about the Sedona Fire District on our Facebook page.
There were numerous factual errors in the user’s comments, all easily verifiable, and none related to the story nor to SFD, but rather in the user’s comments about an elected official who had coincidently defeated the commenting user in the last election cycle.
We replied with several “editor’s notes,” correcting the errors so readers could still read the user’s relevant comments but see corrections to the erroneous comments directed sideways at the user’s former campaign opponent.
The user later posted on her own Facebook page that the ban infringes on her “free speech,” clearly without understanding what the First Amendment protection of free speech actually means.
As a refresher, the First Amendment to the Constitution reads as follows:
"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.”
The First Amendment means the government cannot prevent you from speaking your ideas.
By extension, it also means that others who choose to can give you a forum to share those ideas without facing government prosecution for the content.
However, it does not mean anyone has to listen and no one is obligated to give you their forum, especially if they have guidelines for how to use them, and you abuse them.
To use forums, you must adhere to their guidelines, e.g., Facebook prohibits pornography, YouTube bans users who post pirated movies, television stations “bleep” profanity and we limit our letters to the editor to 300 words, prohibit personal attacks and require documentation for facts.
We are looser with our online comments as that is the nature of social media, but when comments have absolutely no substantive relation to news stories and are just bitterness about an election defeat, that raises red flags that a series of comments may not really be about the news, but rather personal sour grapes.
The aforementioned user’s “free speech” has not been violated due to being kicked off our Facebook page. The user can still post her false statements on her own page, shout them from the street corner or print them on flyers — at the risk of a civil libel or defamation lawsuit — the user just can’t post her falsehoods to our Facebook page because they cost her the privilege of our forum.
Free speech is the foundation of a free society, but use that right responsibly and truthfully. The government can’t prosecute you, but no one has to listen and no one has share their platform if you choose to abuse it.
Christopher Fox Graham