09 September 2014 by Published in: comics, rants Tags:, 1 comment

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  1. In early English history the right to “freedom of speech” only applied within the four walls of Parliament. In 1689, William and Mary acknowledged “That the Freedome of Speech and Debates or Proceedings in Parlyament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parlyament”, a sentiment that today finds expression in the Debate Clause. Just as today people tell you that “freedom of speech” only protects you against government action, and an 18th-century jurist would tell you it only protects you against Congress, so too would a 17th-century Lord tell you it only protects members of Parliament. The real meaning of the phrase is on the move, and has been for many centuries. The question is whether we will stand on the side of history that argues for its expansion, or on the side that thinks it’s come quite far enough. 

  2. Although in this case SCOTUS considered a Congressional restraint on circulation, the reasoning was eventually extended to certain private actors. See, generally, Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, Wickersham v. City of Columbia, 481 F.3d 591, Brentwood Acad. v. TN Sec. School Ath. Assn, 531 U.S. 288, etc. 

  3. I’m not advocating that as a matter of law companies should be forced to allow dissenting opinions on their platform. (Although in some cases it may be warranted. And if it is warranted in the Internet case, I think it is difficult for the warrant to stop there.) Rather, I am suggesting it is our duty as platform operators to allow the widest possible dissent on our platforms, and our duty as Internet citizens to hold our platforms to a high standard. Collectively, we have much more power to enact the restraint of speech than any government in history. 


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Comments

  1. Aaron Davies
    Tue 09th Sep 2014 at 10:03 pm

    I’ve been trying to clarify my own thoughts, and what I think are a lot of people’s intuitions, on this for a couple months now, also triggered by XKCD 1357. What I’ve come up with so far is two basic ideas, one abstract and one (relatively) concrete.

    First, free speech is about the perception of power imbalances. If person or group A is perceived to have power over person or group B, and A blocks B from expressing something, and it is believed that A did this because A disapproved of what B was trying to express, A will be be accused of “censoring” B.

    The precise nature of the power involved is not generally relevant; common examples of A include the government, large corporations, schools, list and board moderators, and majorities of voting-based discussion sites (Slashdot, Reddit, HN, SO, etc.).

    Basically, there seems to be a feeling that people with control over any discussion have a duty to allow all viewpoints to take part. Perhaps some connections can be drawn to natural justice and “hear the other side” (audi alteram partem)….

    Second, people are usually OK with private actors censoring speech that goes directly against their interests and uses their own resources–it’s speech on issues orthogonal to their mission that people feel needs to be protected.

    Roughly, the first type can be thought of as “not allowing advertisements for the competition in your own store”. Some things that should generally be OK: banning atheists from religion forums; banning Macintosh evangelists from Windows forums; banning creationists from science forums. What should not is banning people from technical forums over their real-world political affiliations and opinions.

    To cite a recent, prominent example, I think most people would have been fine with forcing Brendan Eich out of his job over support for Prop. 8 if he’d been working for the ACLU or GLADD, or fine with forcing him out of Mozilla if he were secretly supporting Internet Explorer somehow.

    (Criticism of the leadership of the venue hosting the criticism may be something of a special case, and I haven’t really thought much about it yet. I think allowing people to disagree with your decisions on your own forum may take the most commitment to free speech of all, but on the flip side, deleting those threads is probably the fastest way to get your entire userbase to hate you.)

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