Filthy foul mouths disparaging race, ethnicity, religion and physical appearance are commonplace. Suddenly it’s okay to lie. And the bigger, the more outrageous, the lie, the better. Lying gets attention and increases traffic, ratings and clicks.
Trolls, flamers and bullies fling as much as they can against the wall to see what will stick. Fake news sites have been created to destroy reputations and to plant cookies on your site, spreading viruses and depositing worms and—fake accounts that self-replicate and spread across networks.
For years, Donald Trump claimed President Obama not born in the United States. He further asserts President Obama is a Muslim and the founder of ISIS. On all counts, Trump lied.
On the internet there are legions of trolls and automated social media bots that are spam attack weapons. Some claim trolls are ruining the internet. Trolls start arguments and unleash a torrent of hateful and obscene comments, flaming, with the aim of destruction. Being nasty, but anonymous, is the rule of the day. Leslie Jones, the African-American star of Ghostbusters, was flamed on Twitter by an army of trolls spewing racial epithets, body shaming and hate.
Instead of the truth, we have truthiness, a term coined by comedian Stephen Colbert. Truthiness is when something feels right, regardless whether it is true or a lie. Truthiness feels good and juicy, sort of like popping a stick of juicy fruit gum into your mouth and getting a burst of sugar.
The way we have always monitored genuine truth was by adhering to the higher objective standards set forth by science, education, law or the media. The media that used to set the standard for fair and unbiased reporting has succumbed to tricks and clicks. We might rely on science or education but it means reading more than a meme and the average American is just not willing to spend much time engaged in critical thinking. So we only have law, the legal system, that might be able to save us.
Remember the line “Let’s kill all the lawyers?” It’s one of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes from his play Henry VI. Rebel Jack Cade thought if he created social chaos and disrupted the political order, then he could become King, thus kill all the lawyers.
Now more than ever, it is apparent, that maybe only lawyers can save us from bullies. We need to take a fresh look at defamation of character, slander and libel.
According to the law dictionary, Defamation of character describes when a false statement is written or spoken about an individual with the intent of harming or slandering their reputation. The statement must be published (meaning some third party must have heard it), false, and it must result in harm, usually to the reputation. Written defamation is called "libel," and spoken defamation is called "slander.”
You shouldn’t be able to say anything you want if it’s not true. Freedom of Speech was not framed by our founding fathers to protect lying. There is an emerging trend in law to bring law suits against trolls, flamers and bullies. If trolls and lying bullies realize that their nasty comments could land them in court and cost them money, they might be less inclined to fan the flames.
The days when people could say whatever they want and maintain their anonymity are numbered. Social media outlets that provide a safe harbor for trolls hiding under a cloak of anonymity should pay the price. Anyone who is a victim of trolls can leverage the situation to gain monetary compensation for the damage done to their reputation. Instead of killing all the lawyers, it might be the legal system that can restore some sense of decency, fair play, and save our culture.