The True Story of Freedom of Speech in Internet Forums

Guwahati: The truth is, what your freedom of speech is and where it applies is actually very simple, but our understanding of it has been very distorted, mostly because people use “free speech” as a weapon where it doesn’t apply, and often as a shield to hide behind when they’re being criticized.

What Exactly Is Freedom of Speech and How Does It Apply to the Internet?

Unfettered liberty is not present in any sphere of life. You have the right to build a house on your plot but you don’t have the right to build a factory on that plot if the zoning requirements are not met. You have the liberty to set up a business but you need to take a license. You have freedom of speech but you can’t shout ‘fire” in a movie hall just for the heck of it.

Freedom of Speech is an important right because without it we will not be able to voice our dissent against the government. However, your freedom of speech doesn’t guarantee you anything in a private forum. It is a private forum (though available to the public) because couple of individuals created this forum and they there are the administrators who have the power to use the rules of the forum against errant members. Private entities and private spaces such as this are not required to protect your speech.

Most forums on the internet are privately owned, and have no obligation to allow you to speak freely in their space. Whether it’s on Facebook removing content that violates its own terms of service, a blogger deleting a comment he/she finds offensive, or a big company deleting user posts from its Facebook page, your speech may be censored, but you have no right to free speech in those places.

While the administrators have the freedom to use the rules against you, you also have the right/freedom to vote with your feet by leaving the forum. As long as you don’t violate FB’s Terms of Use you also have the freedom to create your own forum and make your own rules. Make it a better forum than this one – that’s the best revenge, right? Obviously, it will be impossible to moderate vox. It would also be easy to “record” someone saying something and make it appear they said something else. Moderators won’t really be able to do anything about vox harassment and insults – the accused will simply say, “That’s not my voice” and submit a recording of a different voice as “proof.” To call someone a fag is either ignorance or homophobia but mostly it really is homophobia. Just imagine somebody would keep shouting “shut up you kike”. There would be no argument that that would have to stop (rightfully so)

The bottom line is that while you have the right to defecate, you don’t have the right to defecate in my house unless I give you that right. Remember this when you speak on the internet. While Reddit or Twitter may feel like the new “public square,” they aren’t. This means your speech is not constitutionally protected unless specified in the terms of use for that service, and those can change at the whim of the service or platform provider. Plus, governments know that they can lean on companies to change their rules (see SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA) and restrict private speech as well (see Twitter working with local governments to censor objectionable material,) regardless of whether they can do it in public. All isn’t lost though—some speech is protected, and there are places where you can say what you choose.