Free Speech and the Internet

The freest phenomenon that exists is information and the Internet advances freedom of information on a global scale.

The Internet is a common platform, a place available to the public similar to any area of a town; it belongs to everybody. The only difference is that the Internet is the largest common space that has ever been created. The Internet allows for all who want to be heard to access the Internet and say the world is their audience. As diverse as humanity is, that is how large the world-wide audience will be. Since all of the world's population is the audience, no one community or group can dictate what kind of thought or speech is permitted on the Internet.

The robust architecture of the Internet allows the principle of freedom of speech to be part and parcel of the Internet. Due to its robust design, a complete blockage of information on the Internet is nearly impossible. Only in very controlled and limited circumstances can information be blocked. This is true with regard to a home computer, when information is to be blocked from children, a firewall can be installed to block certain sites.

If one believes in the progress of civilization, and that this progress depends on the ability to express speech, thought and new ideas, the freedom of speech is the greatest value that society can encourage. By using the Internet, people have become more and more convinced about the importance of that freedom, because of their personal experience with the World Wide Web. Not only does the Internet afford universal freedom of speech, but it also provides access to different opinions and thoughts and allows people to form their own conclusion and express their own feelings.

Allowing for freedom of speech and expression on the Internet has many pitfalls. Not everybody is safe on the Internet, especially not children. There are untold numbers of websites that show nothing but pornography and are available with a click of the mouse. Children do not necessarily have to look at those sites, but they are vulnerable to seeing pornography on the Internet in the form of explicit advertisements that pop up on innocent sites, and everything is only a click away.

The dangers of the Internet are not limited to pornography. There are many sites where, due to the anonymity of the Internet, people try to solicit sex from innocent children through chatrooms. There are many children who do not know and assume that the person they are chatting with is a "friend" who is their age and harmless.

Another frightening phenomenon on the Internet is the proliferation of sites hosted by hate groups. These groups put all sorts of anti-government material on the Internet and even try to recruit members. Another aspect of these groups is the fact that one can find thousands of sites that offer dangerous materials such as guns or bomb-making material for sale to the public. The Internet contains sites that inform the public how to make home-made bombs, how to rob banks, how to kidnap, etc.

The solution to the problem seems to be rather simple: ban people from hosting any sexually explicit content on the Internet. This, however, cannot be done. The First Amendment of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech does not allow the government to shut down those sites. Since the Internet is an open platform, shutting down Internet sites would be a violation of the First Amendment. Watchdog organizations have been formed to make sure that there is no violation of people's rights and that there is no censorship of the Internet.

Any discussion about freedom of speech on the Internet ensues inevitably turns to the fine line of where does free speech end and censorship begin, especially as it pertains to children. Is it right for the Internet to have topics that are censored and that would be illegal to post, so that children will not be able to see them? Or perhaps the Internet should be a free for all where anybody is free to post whatever he or she desires and it is up to the viewer to decide what is appropriate to view and what is not.

Free Speech and the Internet: Selected full-text books and articles

Reno v. ACLU: Internet Censorship By Joan Axelrod-Contrada Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2007
Internet Hate Speech and the First Amendment, Revisited By Baumrin, Julian Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1-2, Spring-Summer 2011
Defamation and John Does: Increased Protections and Relaxed Standing Requirements for Anonymous Internet Speech By Barclay, Stephanie Brigham Young University Law Review, Vol. 2010, No. 4, July 1, 2010
Pornography, Community and the Internet - Freedom of Speech and Obscenity on the Internet By Kamiel, Yuval; Wismonsky, Haim Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal, Vol. 30, No. 1, Spring 2004
Beyond Content Neutrality: Understanding Content-Based Promotion of Democratic Speech By Ammori, Marvin Federal Communications Law Journal, Vol. 61, No. 2, March 2009
Tongue-in-Cheek: How Internet Defamation Laws of the United States & China Are Shaping Global Internet Speech By Hostettler, Nicole The Journal of High Technology Law, Vol. 9, No. 1, January 2009
How Elevation of Corporate Free Speech Rights Affects Legality of Network Neutrality By Cherry, Barbara A Federal Communications Law Journal, Vol. 63, No. 3, May 2011
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