Fight to Maintain Freedom of Speech on the Internet

Fight to Maintain Freedom of Speech on the Internet

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Fight to Maintain Freedom of Speech on the Internet



Imagine yourself trapped inside another world, a world where your essence is made entirely of words that can say whatever you desire. You could be young or old, male or female or neither, you are only as limited as your imagination. Now Imagine that someone wants to have a say in what can be said, seen, and done in this brave new world, what would this change, and more importantly who decides what's 'good' and what's 'bad'?


In the ordinary and mundane world of real life people have always fought for the pursuit of happiness, free speech, etc. They are subjects which have always shouted in the hearts of our nations heroes, and rightfully so. What would our world be like if the government controlled what we were allowed to see and to say? It seems that George Orwell described it best in his book 1984 when he gave the scenario of a society in which people who committed the heinous act of thoughtcrime, the act of thinking something that goes against the party line, mysteriously disappeared into the night never to be seen again. Thankfully, the hordes of would be 'thought police' members have been staved off throughout history and we have achieved a relatively liberal society where people are, for the most part, able to speak their minds openly. Well, even in today's world there are still people who get pissed off when they think that free speech goes to far and they say something about it. This brings me to my main point.


The Internet. A land made possible in 1968 by the Dept. of Defense with the idea that if all other lines of communications were destroyed in the advent of war then at least we'd have computers, (I don't know, maybe they thought the electricity might magically produce itself after the bombing stopped). Any ways, thankfully the Internet has evolved beyond that into something which encompasses just about every possible human interest out there. A hodgepodge of political ideals ranging from big business capitalism to the gender erasing equality of the socialist mindset make the Internet a place where conflicts of interest often arise.

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These conflicts are what I'm going to concentrate on in this essay, I hope to show you that, although I don't believe that kids need to be looking at stuff like drug pages or cyberporn, I don't believe that censoring it so that no one can take a peep is the answer that we need. The answer that I am going to try to present will focus more on increasing the level of awareness on the part of the Internet user instead of black listing offensive material. I will also talk about the increasing debate on the ethics of canceling someone who is writing offensive material. The question that we must address on this issue is do we, as Internet users, have the right to decide what others can say on the net?


For years now the Internet has played the role of 7th heaven for those who want to get their hands on information of any kind. Sometimes, however, it becomes the 'any kind' part that scares parents who don't want their young son 'accidentally' catching his first exposure to the birds and the bees on the family's PC, or their daughter looking at the latest news on the Cannabis Cup results. Parents have every right to be alarmed by the material that their children see because that's part of being a parent, looking after your kid. However, does being a parent extend to someone who wants to look at such material? First you have look at the availability of objectionable material, in this case pornography. The following excerpt is by James Herrington from his essay "Beware of Chilling Freedom of Expression" which is in CyberReader,


The Internet also can be a conduit for obscenity, and for children who know how to find it. Not that obscenity is new to human existence, even for minors. Nor is salacious and vulgar material easy to locate on the Internet; ferreting it out requires a certain adeptness, even for seasoned Internet surfers. Its availability alone should not set the stage for cybercensorship.


Although Herrington suggests that the availability of pornographic material on the net requires "a certain adeptness" this is olny a temporary solution to the problem. Kids are becoming more familiar with the Internet due to its increased use in schools and, because of this, it won't be long before it becomes easier for kids to find things on the net. However, the limited knowledge that kids posses as of right now gives us some time before the problem amplifies, this is where the parents come in. Parents today must no longer look at the Internet with apprehension, there is software available to block out offensive sights using key words and the Internet providers also have the right and power to enforce morality codes on their users. The responsibility to initiate this software falls upon the shoulders of concerned parents. There doesn't have to be an outright ban on "salacious and vulgar" material, people have the option to in effect create an Internet which is tailored to their needs without restricting the type of material which is presented on the entire net.


Parents aren't the only ones who are calling for changes on the net, regular users have often complained of 'flaming', the act of sending verbally abusive messages. In reaction to flaming netizens have begun utilizing the 'cancelbot' function, in other words, destroying offending messages. There is a danger in this however, where do we draw the line between canceling someone because they're offensive and canceling them because you don't want to hear what they have to say? Here's what Daniel P. Dern, author of The Internet Guide for New Users, has to say about canceling.


There is a danger of the cancel wars shifting from inappropriate resource use to canceling somebody based on 'I don't like your opinion. At what point does somebody say, 'I don't like this person, and I'm going to cancel them? (Lewis, "No more "Anything Goes" Cyberspace Gets Censors")


The question that we face now is, should the cancel command be continued or another system be imposed. One idea is to reduce the whole thing to majority rule basis, I do not believe this is the right choice, the whole idea of free speech is to allow the minority the right to voice their opinions. So, what answer can we turn to? A system in which a complaint is lobbied through a committee would slow the process to an intolerable length for the petitioner. I offer this idea, that the system remain the same, minus the cancelbot. There isn't any need to cancel someone is to take the out-of-sight out-of-mind approach which only ignores the problem. As Clifford Stoll, author of Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway 220, Internet users have the capability of self redemption.


I suspect that the main reason why we see so few law suits is that the network provides an ideal system for rebuttal. Whatever someone says against you online, you can reply to within hour, with the same distribution, and to the same audience.


The Internet is a land where people may defend themselves by the verbal sword, a land of freedom wherein its peoples should be able to speak freely. This is the code by which the Internet should live. People must become educated in the areas of software advances and the Internet itself otherwise the Internet might never live up to its potential greatness. It is the users themselves who decide what freedoms remain on the net and so I implore you to become more responsible netizens and up hold the edicts and ethics of the net to stop the invasion of would be 'thought police'.




"Beware of Chilling Freedom of Expression" James Herrington CyberReader, Allyn & Bacon, 1996)


"Internot[sic]," The New York Times Magazine, Dec. 19, 1993, p. 18)

"No More Anything Goes: Cyberspace Gets Censors" Peter H. Lewis CyberReader, Allyn & Bacon, 1996)

Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway 220 Clifford Stoll New York: Doubleday/Anchor, 1995

Anne Wells Branscomb. "Cyberspaces: Familiar Territory or Lawless Frontiers."

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