Milo Yiannopoulos twists meaning of First Amendment

Madeline Kim Mar 6, 2017
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America prides itself on many things, especially freedom. Perhaps the epitome of American values lies in the First Amendment, which protects the freedom of speech for all Americans. However, with the rise of "political correctness", some fear that the First Amendment is under attack.

This is where Milo Yiannopoulos enters the scene.

Yiannopoulos, a former journalist of Breitbart News, has found himself in the limelight. He is an unabashed defender of free speech and praises himself as the "Internet 'supervillain'". Yiannopoulos is not afraid to offend people; in fact, he actually finds "delight in offending people." His lack of filter and rejection of progressive values has turned him into a tour de force combating political correctness and protecting the freedom of speech.

Regardless of one’s stance on him, it is undeniable that he has sparked conversation in American society. Some herald him as a martyr of free speech, but others see him as a threat to democracy. Criticisms of the public figure have ranged from Twitter feuds to protests at the University of California, Berkeley.

Yiannoupolus has a tendency to repeatedly call the left and its views a variety of insults such as "cancer" and "social justice warriors." He continues to unabashedly stir up controversies and call out celebrities, which famously led to his Twitter account being terminated. Although one might believe this negative reception would damage his popularity, this attention gave him even more support from his followers. It has given them more reasons to believe there is rise in censorship in American society and has led them to grow more defensive as a result.

No matter how adamant Yiannopoulos is on knowing the First Amendment, it has grown evident that he may be overestimating the extent to which it protects him.

Yes, Yiannopoulos is correct — the First Amendment does grant him the freedom of speech. No matter how controversial or potentially detrimental his message may be, he has the right to voice his opinions. Even his most tendentious words are granted the right to be spoken "without prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press" by Congress. On the flip side, his critics have the same right speak back at him. This is the way a democracy works: by giving each person a voice through the First Amendment, people within a democratic society can keep the government and each other accountable, ensuring that each person has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Unfortunately, here is where his comprehension of the First Amendment falters.

When he announced there was an "Orwellian" censorship of the users on major social media platforms, he demonstrated his lack of understanding of what the First Amendment truly entails. Although freedom of speech protects people from being persecuted for simply speaking their mind, it is not equivalent to freedom from any and all kinds of consequences.

One such consequence was seen recently when he resigned from Breitbart News. Although there is no exact singular cause leading up to his resignation, his apparent condonation of pedophilia definitely stirred up emotions from not only his usual critics on the left but also from his friends and colleagues at Breitbart. For the first time, he attempted to apologize for his actions — in this case, his alleged advocacy for adults sexually abusing minors — yet the primary focus on his apology is the execution of his message rather than the fact he had expressed the message at all.

Whatever the intentions were behind his apology or his resignation, Yiannopoulos avoid responsibility for his words by apologizing for the reception of his words rather than his own actions, and by doing so, he cleverly found a way to defend himself and save the image that a sizable number of his supporters have painted.

He claims that his decision on resigning was purely his own, yet it is dubious as to how much the controversy and its criticism have contributed.

The First Amendment is a critical component of democracy in the United States: it ensures fairness in speech by granting each person a right to speak. However, the First Amendment is not some foolproof justification for saying whatever regardless of its potential consequences, hence why one can be punished for shouting “fire” in a crowded theater or sending threatening messages. Yes, these are extreme examples given, and the effect Milo Yiannopoulos has had is much more debatable. Nonetheless, it is important to be aware that by using his platform to spread hateful speech and falsities, even Yiannopoulos should be cognizant of the influence he has on society and know better than to expect no repercussions.