With freedom comes responsibility, and even the liberties detailed in the U.S. Constitution aren't without limitations. That's why, in some arenas, "hate speech" is not acceptable.

These days, too many Americans have a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment. That particular flaw in constitutional knowledge is one with which credible journalists take great umbrage. In theory, all citizens have a right to say what they want to, within reason – but there may be a price to pay for what they say.

When it comes to social media, no one has to put up with hateful comments from other people, especially if those remarks are steeped in racism, sexism, homophobia or misogyny. But now, with hate speech seemingly acceptable in many quarters, it's up to people of goodwill to put a kibosh on it. We don't have to be tolerant of intolerance, nor do we have to accept provable lies as truth.

The First Amendment is about speaking out against the government and seeking redress for its actions. It’s about preventing the government from telling Americans how to worship, or forcing them to worship at all. It is not carte blanche to bear false witness against your neighbor – or really, even a politician – or to bring down another person with hate and bigotry.

The problem is that today, too many of us – human beings and those who outwardly resemble them – cannot discern fact from fiction, and many are willing to take the word of a carnival-barker politician, pundit or celebrity rather than do the research themselves. Are you one of those? When you claim to have done that research, have you collected data only from websites and timelines that espouse talking points with which you already agree? Or are you willing to consider other opinions, and accept the word of legitimate researchers?

Employees for fact-checking outfits are under the gun, just as much as the media. No matter what evidence they unearth, or what their own political stances happen to be, many of these folks are eschewing social media because they can't stand the lies or the hate. They feel they're beating their heads against stone walls when they see friends and family turning toward outrageous propaganda machines such as "QAnon."

Don't be part of the problem. Don't cave into the hate. Step back, take a breath, and think before you speak – or type. You'll be doing yourself – and your friends, family and country – a favor.

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