The Internet offers extraordinary opportunltles for “speakers,” broadly defined. Political candidates, cultural critics, anyone who wants to express an opinion about anything can make their thought available to a world-wide audience far more easily than has ever been possible before. Some observers find the resultant outpouring of speech exhilarating. They see in it nothing less than the revival of democracy and the restoration of community.
Other observers find the amount and above all the kind of speech that the Internet has stimulated offensive or frightening. Pornography, hate speech, lurid threats. This has provoked various efforts to limit the kind of speech in which one may engage on the Internet or to develop systems to “filter out” the more offensive material. Oddly for a medium that was supposed to reduce censorship by limiting government control it has become one of the most widely censored mediums there Is. This Is true even In countries that do not censor other forms of communication.
The First Amendment to the Constitution (1791) protects free speech, and that includes these postings, and worse which have appeared on Internet message oards and blogs, as upsetting as they may be, they are protected as free speech under the First Amendment so long as they don’t violate some other law. As the United Nations has said (The New York Times, 2011 access to the Internet is a human right. A report by the U. N’s special rapporteur presented to the Human Rights council in Geneva warns that this right is being threatened by governments around the world, democracies included. China Jails bloggers, blocks Web sites and filters the Internet to eradicate words, Including “democracy,” from the conversation. * In Italy, a court convicted Google executives because a user ploaded a video on YouTube depicting cruelty to a disabled teenager, even though Google quickly removed the offending content. * Brazil’s congress is debating legislation that would require Internet service providers to keep a log of customers’ online activity for three years, which authorities could access without a court order to pursue crimes. The French and British parliaments have passed draconian laws that would ban users from the Internet for illegally downloading copyrighted material. The United States Senate is considering an intellectual property bill that would allow the government or private businesses to take4 action against a otentially large array of Web sites for “facilitating” piracy, an excessively broad definition. * The U. N. has proposed sound guidelines to defend free expression: censorship of content online must be transparent and enforced only through the courts.
Governments should not rely on private entitles Ilke service providers to censor content and should not hold them liable for user content. If you believe that progress of human civilization depends on individual expression of new ideas, important value society can uphold. The more experience someone has with the Internet the more strongly they generally believe in the importance of freedom of peech, usually because their personal experience has convinced them of the benefits of open expression.