Free Speech, Safety and the Web

The Internet is considered to be a place where the world comes together to communicate, share ideas, and to freely access all public information any time that they chose. This frontier quickly turned into a space resembling the wild west, motivating and inspiring to some, while dangerous and, ultimately, lawless for others.

This vast global system of interconnected computers has come under question lately with all the talk about government regulation, such as the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, and the rights of the people to exercise free speech. These controversial questions discussed, make it hard to draw the line between the freedom of those wishing to have the ability to discuss and share information and the safety of those willing to protect their shared information from piracy, and because of this, we are left in the dark as to what is this best form of action to take with the Internet as a whole. This does, however, lead us to make decisions in specific situations just as we do with non-cyber laws.

Each case of internet action on the web is different and should be treated as such. The first amendment does prohibit the making of any law that would hinder the free exercise of religion, impede the freedom of speech, limit the freedom of the press, and stop anyone’s rights of peaceful protest and airing of grievances to their government, but it can make laws that prohibit people impeding on other people’s rights.

Recently Reddit, a popular social news website where the users submit content, has banned individuals from posting “suggestive or sexual content featuring minors.” Thirty subreddits, or categories on the site, has been shut down so far and the site is promising to keep on top of any new subreddits that emerge. Although this is a great move for any major site on the Internet because of the “clear and present danger” of child pornography that puts children’s lives on the line, for a social news website that is based on allowing free speech no matter the material and that allows users to be charge of what goes on the site, the whole idea of beginning to regulate the users content misleadingly brings up the same problems that everyone has is currently regarding ACTA and SOPA.

Although the bill was meant to enforce the fight of online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods, the generalized categorization linking to any other site on their Facebook, YouTube or Tumblr with actions such as stealing and redistributing content online for sale could send anyone to jail. Those concerned about an Reddit that could possibly begin banning wider ranges of content have jumped to conclusions and likened the situation to that of an internet under a passing of SOPA.

“We understand that this might make some of you worried about the slippery slope from banning one specific type of content to banning other types of content,” reads Reddit’s notification to its users about the banning. “We will tirelessly defend the right to freely share information on Reddit in any way we can, even if it is offensive or discusses something that maybe illegal. However, child pornography is a toxic and unique case for Internet communities, and we’re protecting Reddit’s ability to operate by removing this threat.”

It’s obvious that the ban is a good thing. Child pornography is always going to be a subject frowned upon by the majority of the society. It’s where the banning of things will end that concerns the brave adventurers of the Internet just like the majority of individual Internet users were concerned for their free speech rights under the possible enacting of SOPA. If a site as freely sharing as Reddit begins to regulate the Internet, how will any other regulators know when to stop? That’s a problem that the world will have to face when trying to sort out our global connection to one another. Where do we draw the line when it comes to Internet privacy on social-networks such as Facebook, Google, and YouTube?

Many people have been worried about Google implementing its new, unified privacy policy, which has gathered the data Google has collected on you from all of the related sites that they own and have been frantically clearing their web histories to counteract the unification that took place on March 1. People also become incredibly disturbed when the ads on the sides of their Facebook pages change to resemble pages that they have liked and things that they have spoken about or have mentioned in their profile page. Protection of personal, intellectual, or entertainment property come crashing head-on with the liberating rights of free speech on the Web. The struggle between protecting the creative rights of notable companies and businesses and protecting the first amendment rights of people on the internet put strain on either side and cause a lot of confusion as to how to deal with this situation.

The only thing we can do is treat each individual Internet-related scenario differently when it comes to government regulation and making laws because it is so complex and versatile. Blanketing the world in a collective set of generalized laws can bring the same problems that have been brought up in SOPA, but realizing as internet users that banning and regulating certain content is also attempting to protect the privacy and safety of everyone will only help better the internet, which is all the more reason to pay attention to the defining line between Internet freedom and safety.

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