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Doug's Mailbag: Web Censorship vs. Free Speech Debate Continues

We continue to go through your responses to Doug's censorship vs. free speech blog:

I don't know which is worse: that members of the KKK read your newsletter or that I agreed with him on freedom of speech. I was surprised and appalled when I read the signature on the letter after reading and mostly agreeing with it. Thankfully, I don't agree with the hatred of anyone different than me.

I totally agree that the right to preach your beliefs and to find like-minded people should be protected. However, my freedom cannot and should not impinge on someone else's freedoms. The minute the speech goes from beliefs to threats, that threshold has not only been crossed, but destroyed.

I, however, do not agree with the whole hate speech thing. It's a slippery slope to start to say that one type of speech is protected, but another is not – that is how dictators come to power. We must be vigilant to protect all individual's freedoms (whether we agree with them or not), lest we all become pawns to another's goals and find we've lost our freedoms.

The freedoms of speech and thought are basic human rights.

To deny them validates the beliefs of those who irrationally fear those whom they demonize and strengthens both the position and the intensity of their language.

Censorship also denigrates those who deny these freedoms by allowing them to forget or marginalize the humanity of those they are censoring.

Live and let live, speak and allow others to speak, listen and learn.

You don't have to agree with what you hear and discuss but open discourse is the best way to combat the hateful beliefs and misconceptions which drive intolerant speech. O
Open discourse is also the only lasting way to open the minds of others, which ultimately frees people from intolerant ideas.


So the Rabbi thinks we should censor and persecute particular groups he feels are a negative influence on society? That's never been done, so let's give it a try! Maybe we should elect him to a high office so he has the power to really get things done.

The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best -- and therefore never scrutinize or question.

I appreciate your thoughts. I find this whole issue a major quandary. While I find hate speech repugnant, who defines "hate?" Google pulls it services from China because of censorship. I suspect that China thinks that the pro-democracy messages that they have been censoring are hate speech. A devout Muslim considers a critical cartoon about Mohammed to be hateful, but a critical cartoon about Jews (or Christians or Hindus or…) to be righteous. As a Christian, there are behaviors that I oppose, but if I state that the Bible says those behaviors are wrong, I am speaking hate. I personally try to separate the person from their action, but it can be a challenge.

Ugly mess this freedom stuff. Causes all sorts of problems. Is it all or none?

As much as I would love to segregate the hate-mongers from the rest of society, we have a long tradition of letting speech speak for itself. Those that don't hate can easily recognize those that that do, so there is really no sense in censoring such speech.

More importantly, the slippery slope is that restricting hate speech can lead to restricting all sorts of ideas based upon the beliefs of those doing the restricting. There are those who "hate" conservatives and there are those that "hate" liberals.  There are also those who hate Christians, Muslims or Jews. Mostly, there are those that hate anything or anybody who is somehow different than themselves.

Who censors the censors? And who protects each person's right to speak (even of their position is idiotic) if it is not us?

Some consider Michelangelo's David and Playboy magazine equally pornographic and would restrict both -- yet the Supreme Court agrees than pornography is not illegal and though obscenity is illegal, the high court can't seem to decide what constitutes obscenity.

The bottom line is that if I don't get to judge what I should or should not access, who does? You? Congress? POTUS? Should we have Web censors like we have (broadcast) TV censors?

I am concerned that illegal activity on the Web cannot be traced to the perpetrators or even to the jurisdiction where the illegal activity takes place.

If there was some way to categorize Web content by type (without prejudice) and by the identity and credentials of the source, it would be much easier for the typical user to tell whether or not a source is reliable. If I could read Web-based content and be sure of the credentials of the source, the legitimacy of a Web site, and the identity of the person sending me spam, I would be much happier.

The fact that there is so much hate in the world is certainly disturbing but the idea that somehow gagging those that express such hate will make them, or their like-minded readers, hate any less is simply ridiculous.

Only an open expression of ideas among honest people will reveal the truth and falsehoods of unfettered speech.  
-C Mark

I think that your recognition of the hate problem is great. I am not sure what the solution is short of censorship. I believe that pressure should be put on the hosting sites, but even that may not work because many of the sites are in foreign countries. There are several e-mail lists that send out vicious racial and religious comments. Again, I am not sure of a good solution but I would very much like to see something done.

Here's my not-so-hidden agenda on Web hate-speech. I'm a Scientologist.

For that, I've been told on the Web, "I hope you die in a fire." I've heard more f-bombs than sailors' barracks. In the real world, I've found two notes advocating death to Scientologists.

Visit any Web news that mentions Scientology -- even its prominent members -- and you'll find its comment section an armory of hatred dripping with venom.

YouTube prints cesspools of rage, four-letter words and expressions of violence under any unmoderated Scientology-related video. And under videos about any other minority you can name.

In my experience, ABCNews is the only major news site that takes seriously "violation reports" about readers' posts that violate its terms of service. Most sites have no one-click way to report violations; you have to go searching. At the far end of the scale is the St. Petersburg Times, which only purges outright vulgarity about Scientology. A zillion micro-sites and blogs purge nothing on any topic.

As to censoring hate-speech on the Web, my gut so agrees with Rabbi Cooper!

But what if my emotions are wrong? Should we let Web hate-speech alone?

If hate-crazies aren't allowed to vent, posture and display their anger verbally to their Web buddies -- and get their team's "attaboys" -- might they increase actual violence against Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, other minorities and Scientologists?

If that's a possible trade-off, I'll take their virtual, verbal violence over physical.

My own opinion is that the Web should be a free-for-all! This is not to say that we should not educate and speak out against all hate, pornography and the bad the Internet has to offer, but we must remember "freedom is not free". We all must pay a price to remain "free" and if that payment is to allow a free Internet, then so be it. At what point do we stop restricting what people have to say, and who will be the judge of what is considered appropriate? Remember that you have the choice to visit or not, and the real reason to keep the Internet free is the fact that you do have a choice. We are not China!

Share your thoughts with the editors of this newsletter! Write to [email protected]. Letters printed in this newsletter may be edited for length and clarity, and will be credited by first name only (we do NOT print last names or e-mail addresses).

Posted by Doug Barney on March 29, 2010