There is this myth out there about Free Speech: that it is absolutely free. The whole "fire in a crowded movie theater" chop has been used so often lately, but one might have trouble recalling just what a movie theater is. The reckoning there, whether you can remember crowds of any sort outside the flag-waving mobs that attacked the Capitol, is that you have to consider what you say as a part of an equation. Simply announcing that a blaze has begun in the projection room so that everyone sitting in the dark watching the latest offering from Hollywood's sequel factory is irresponsible. It could lead to panic. It could lead to injury and even death. Or at least the incineration of Zach Snyder's Justice League.
That might not be a tragedy in and of itself, but the responsibility factor should not be overlooked. If there truly was a fire in the projection room, the last thing you want to do is have whatever crowd assembled out front to injure one another on their way out of the theater. If they were to flee, it should be in an orderly disgusted manner as dictated by the ridiculousness of the film being shown. Not trampling one another in a race for the exits as smoke and poisonous gasses fill the room that had previously held only mediocre entertainment.
There is a responsibility to tell the truth. Not just when it comes to movie theaters. This extends to speech we share at peak volume or in whispers. Oddly, both seem to carry effectively, with whispers holding a slight edge when it comes to moving bad information quickly. The veracity of those whispers should be checked, but because they tend to involve that unique invitation to become part of a secret society that knows "the truth," humans tend to savor these bits most. Then there's the amplification of those whispers that makes things even more dicey. Having television networks and dark corners of Al Gore's Internet where these "secrets" can be collected and traded makes that whole free-flowing speech dangerous. It would seem that millions of Americans have been hoodwinked into believing all manner of salacious and less than accurate drivel. Millions of Americans who lack the discernment to distinguish truth from Q. That thrill of being on the inside, in the know, is so very powerful that when those lies start getting repeated by folks you might expect should have their knowledge bases covered, you get some very dangerous momentum.
Momentum that can lead to folks being trampled underfoot. Values and institutions, crushed under the weight of hate and fear that started as a whisper and turned into a scream. It is just a little sad to discover after all these years that there is a cost to Free Speech. The cost being an effort to speak truth, and to correct mistakes when they are made. Not to amplify them, or push even harder in hopes that somehow repeating a lie big or small to make them true. That's Joseph Goebbels' Territory, and there's nothing free or freeing about that.