Posted by: Fizzgig | July 7, 2008

Freedom of Speech? Not Online

Yahoo! news has an interesting article about freedom of speech in online spaces. Through World of Warcraft, Second Life, MySpace, Facebook, Livejournal, and other sites, a wide number of social interactions have opened up through the Internet… however, users often make the mistake of assuming that they can say whatever they want, wherever they want, and enjoy the same free speech rights as everyday life.

Not so. As the article says:

Companies in charge of seemingly public spaces online wipe out content that’s controversial but otherwise legal. Service providers write their own rules for users worldwide and set foreign policy when they cooperate with regimes like China. They serve as prosecutor, judge and jury in handling disputes behind closed doors.

A prime example was Strikethrough 2007, when Livejournal accidentally aligned themselves with a bunch of Neo-Nazis in order to stamp out “pedophile” content on their site, and wound up deleting a discussion group for the book “Lolita,” a bunch of fanfiction communities, and a support group for survivors of child abuse. Users rose up in arms, crying about censorship, only to find that they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. Though users create the content, it’s actually owned by the websites hosting them, which are in turn owned by corporations in the private sector. Including WordPress, which is owned by Automattic, Inc. >.>

And just last month, the Supreme Court began reviewing the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which would criminalize any Internet content that was “acknowledged as protected for adults but deemed ‘harmful to minors.'” It could be punishable by a $50,000 fine or six months in prison. The case is still in courts, but it and other suits brought before judges and lawmakers, as well as the policies of privately-owned corporations, will determine the shape of this brave new world called the Internet.


  1. So the moral of the story is: make local (offline) backups of all your work.


  2. I always do, yes. Other users are unfortunately not so aware of their tenuous place in the online world.

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