The internet is no different with regards to first amendment protection
The Texas Supreme Court ruled recently that the internet's ability to reach millions does not require a change to first amendment law with respect to defamation cases. The court referenced the amicus brief published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit that defends civil liberties in the digital world. The brief advocates that the internet is no different with regards to the first amendment and is a powerful tool for uniting people through discourse and connectedness. The court adopted this perspective and ruled that only in special cases does defamation cause a court to limit speech, but it is rare.
Co-author of the amicus brief Professor Lyrissa Barnett Lidsky believes that government cannot stifle speech that may cause controversy or civil unrest.
Prof. Lidsky commented, "The Texas Supreme Court reiterates a principle that has long been at the core of the First Amendment—that the government cannot resort to judicial orders to muzzle its citizens from speaking in the future, even if it fears their speech may be disruptive or defamatory, Lidsky explained.
When the law can intervene
There is a point when internet speech can become illegal. Trolling is the act of abusing others through potentially harsh and offensive comments on the internet. It is an act that is protected by the first amendment as a form of expression. Hateful and offensive comments have constitutional protection so that public discourse can be free and transparent. When comments and actions are classified as harassment or stalking, they do become illegal. Online offenders can be prosecuted for threats, harassment, invasion of privacy and intimidation.
Law enforcement officials are tasked with the role of finding and bringing to justice those that commit cybercrimes. Online forensic techniques are used to identify those who commit these crimes anonymously on the internet.
Web administrators will try to limit abusive and harmful language on their sites. Eventually, however, the law may have to be involved.
"Intermediaries — usually the websites where trolls post comments — can step in to revoke the privilege of anonymity, or even remove abusive speech that violates their community guidelines but when trolling turns into cyber harassment or cyber stalking, the law can and should intervene," wrote Danielle Keats Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland.
With parties on both sides of the line, those defending online civil liberties and those supporting the identification and prosecution of cybercrime offenders, the words of the amicus brief ring true. The internet is an effective means of bringing people together and continuing a social dialogue through mutual participation. In hopefully only rare situations, where people clearly break the law and hurt others, can a court intervene and limit someone's freedom to express their opinions.