Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Freedom of Speech

According to the opening lines of Wikipedia, the Freedom of Speech is:

The freedom to speak freely without censorship. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes used to indicate not only freedom of verbal speech but any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as on "hate speech".

The right to freedom of speech is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR recognizes the right to freedom of speech as "the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression."[1][2] Furthermore freedom of speech is recognized in European, inter-American and African regional human rights law.

The freedom to speak freely without censorship is one of the reasons I go through great pains not to moderate (too severely) my comments section (ipso facto, I discern between censorship and due moderation, although some do not). I also use the Creative Commons license which allows any of my articles to be reduplicated in full, shared, reviewed, and commented on for any reason, while safeguarding my intellectual properties as my own.

Meanwhile, I support CiviliNation, a research organization dedicated to a hate free, trolling free, libel free, safe and healthy Internet culture. 

Also, if you want to brush up on what constitutes Internet freedom, check out this publication by eJounarlUSA on Defining Internet Freedom. 

Back in 2005, I was honored to sit down with the world famous author Salman Rushdie, a man of literary genius who has dedicated the better part of his adult life fending off censorship and fighting for the Freedom of Speech. One of the topics we discussed was what constitutes genuine Freedom of Speech.

Something Rushdie said that really resonated with me is when he asserted that, "What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist."

As such, Mr. Rushdie convinced me to allow for all opinions--even those I disagree with or don't fully understand--and that ANY censorship of a person's real opinion is an attack on their basic freedoms.

Of course, this doesn't mean that anyone can just slander, libel, and demean others all they want because it's their right to say whatever they want. Hate speech is a direct attack on people's freedoms, and so there are often times laws prohibiting violent and derogatory speech, such as the U.S. defamation law, which seeks to regulate libel, slander, and actual malice against others.

The age of the Internet has brought with it a whole new slew of related problems with regard to freedom of speech and censorship. Questions such as, "How decent ought we act or behave toward others online" and "What constitutes censorship?" often get raised. Even as such acts such as the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which attempted to make the Internet a safer place, got overturned because it still was in conflict with genuine freedom of individual expression. While personal sites can maintain their own individual policies, the Government shall not censor the voice and opinions of the public (at least in the U.S.--in China it's a whole different ball game).

Another problem is what constitutes Internet spam. There is no clear cut definition of what constitutes "spam" but it floods our email inboxes daily, nonetheless. 

Personally, I view spam as anything which constitutes extemporaneous data which is wholly unrelated to anything--and which does not show thought behind the attached content--i.e., it is automated and there are no signs of actual human cognition behind the information involved. But that's just my definition. Other times, there are bloggers which spend a lot of time and energy spamming others, but again, their content shows no actual coherency--it's just random videos, links, and advertisements. This sort of spam is degenerative, as it interrupts and breaks down any real attempts at free (unhindered) discussion. Regulating, or blocking, such disruptive spam is necessary to keep the soundness of a conversation.

Furthermore, spam does not qualify as a *genuine individual's opinion, because usually it merely amounts to advertising campaigns which try to sell you stuff you don't need, or else clog up your servers with useless (irrelevant) information, and blocking spam is not the same as stifling the voice of others--because spammers aren't trying to get a message across--they're trying to get your money. That's why I have no qualms with setting my filters to block out spam, but I do have qualm's with deleting someone which is merely pointing me to something of interest (even if it is unrelated). The point is, there is a difference between a tangential advertisement, which thought has gone into, and senseless spam.

What I won't do, however, is block or delete those who just want to share their ideas and opinions, maybe even share a link or something they think I may be interested in. In fact, the only way to get good interaction and spark good discussions is to allow for all types of opinions, ideas, and concepts. Sometimes unrelated opinions, ideas, and concepts have a funny way of starting new pertinent discussions, other times entirely new (yet equally interesting) conversations grow out of them.

Recently I ran into some trouble when I posted unrelated content on somebody's blog, and they promptly deleted my comments as spam. In my defense I explained the difference between spam and a simple plug and an advertisement of related content and an advertisement, of say, soap. But they wouldn't have it, and they directed me to their strict posting guidelines.

This is another problem with the Internet. There are just too many nondescript guidelines, policies, and rules. Some are thought out, some aren't. Some are legally binding, but most aren't. But because of the endless content generated, there are endless amounts of guidelines and policies generated as well. When it comes to one's allotted time online, you can choose to engage with content or spend all your time reading the fine print of the policies. Most people choose to engage with the content.

Normally I don't have time to read lengthy, nondescript, guidelines... I mean, who does? We all have been guilty, at one time or another, of scrolling through something like the iTune's update policy box, and clicking on "yes" to terms of agreement without having actually read the 35 odd pages of policy changes. Most people have better things to do than waste their day figuring out all the details to every bi-law to intricate policies--which seem to change every few weeks.

The point is, the policies are meant to protect us. Not to limit us. Whereas, it is my opinion, that this blogger is actually limiting what people can or cannot say by holding them to a very specific set of guidelines--guidelines which themselves happen to be in logical contradiction, since he claims to be fully in support of the freedom of speech, but if he were he would do away with his strict guidelines and stop being a "comments Nazi" (see above picture of cute cat) and placing limits on people's freedom of speech.

Ultimately, however, I had to concede. After all, it was his blog, and his guidelines, and I had failed to properly adhere to them. Even as I admitted my mistake, I still find it improper to restrict people in the manner he does. Personally, I simply could not agree with the majority of his policies, because they largely go against what is means to practice the freedom of speech and infringes upon one of our most basic human rights.

I for one, will continue to sponsor an unabashed freedom of speech. Like Voltaire, I may not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend your right to say it.

What do you think? Do you regulate every little comment that passes through--or do you let people speak freely? Do you have strict posting policies or are they rather lax? Are you a "comment Nazi" or a "comment Hippie"?

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist