Online Freedom of Expression
May 1999 - The Internet has historically had no borders, no regulation, and little if any censorship. Basic human rights of freedom of speech and expression have been the standard online in most of the world since the original bulletin board systems. But due to recent events, that may be about to change. If you value those freedoms, you better be prepared to get active.
On the heels of the revelation that the personal web site of one of the Littleton, Colorado high school murderers contained information about building bombs and neo-Nazism, knee-jerk reactionaries all across the fruited plain want to police what you put on the web. Get ready for a ground swell, a recent Gallup poll indicates a large portion of Americans believe the Internet shares a lot of the blame for this tragedy.
It's the same feeling expressed about violence on television being the cause of real-life violence. As humorist Dick Cavett once noted, "There's a lot of comedy on television. I don't see people committing comedy in the streets." The regulation happy members of the U.S. Congress are already taking up the call. Lawmakers are stepping all over each other to be the first to launch any type of pre-emptive legislation. From securities fraud to hate speech, from banning online anti-abortion activities to taxation for e-commerce; your cyber freedoms are going to come under attack. Sales of guns and alcohol and online gambling are also under heavy scrutiny.
If you've been around the Internet Brothers site before and seen our awards program, you may ask "but don't you guys prevent porno, racist, and obscene sites from applying for your award?" Well, no, we don't. They just won't win. But we will argue vociferously your right to publish any content you wish. By the same token, we reserve the right to be offended. There is, however, a big difference between choosing not to view content, and being barred from that content by governmental or social censorship. That is the freedom of expression that must be protected at all cost.
A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling shot down an effort to determine the Communications Decency Act of 1996 unconstitutional. The follow-on to that, CDA II, also is in appeals court. Look for more incidents like Littleton to engage the clamor for judicial movement. If you want to protect your freedoms, you need to be equally loud. Write your congressman. Participate on the radio talk shows. Take to the streets if necessary. If you don't, you'll be looking at the Internet 20 years from now and wondering what happened.
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