Freedom of speech, blogs, and censorship

By Katharine Swan On Monday, May 28, 2007 At 10:52 PM

My regular readers probably know from my previous posts that I do not believe in censorship. However, I so frequently see bloggers decry comment moderation as a violation of their First Amendment rights that I wanted to post on what constitutes freedom of speech...and what doesn't.

Yes, the Constitution gives you the freedom of speech. But what does this mean? For starters, it means that the U.S. government (theoretically) can't do what China does and punish bloggers who say things that "the man" doesn't like. However, the First Amendment does not mean that you have the right to talk on someone else's dime. It also does not guarantee that anyone is going to listen to you.

For instance, if you send your book of brilliant political commentary to a publisher and he turns it down flat, you can't coerce him into publishing it by calling upon your First Amendment rights. You can, however, decide to self-publish the book. Your right to free speech allows you to say or write or publish anything you want, but it doesn't absolve you from having to foot the bill.

How does this relate to blogging? Simple. I am paying to publish my own blog. (Just because I use a free blogging service doesn't mean I am not paying -- I pay for my own website hosting, and host my blog on my own URL.) That means that your right to free speech doesn't mean that I have to pay for you to have it. Since this blog is my space, I can decide whether or not I want an insulting comment to appear on it. While it is a mild form of censorship to delete someone's nasty comment, it's not real censorship, because you are quite able to self-publish your comment -- that is, to get your own blog and use that space however you see fit. That's the right the First Amendment reserves for you.

Hopefully this will clarify what is or is not a violation of someone's First Amendment rights. With this in mind, I am going to change my blog's settings to allow anonymous comments again, in the hopes that my "anonymous" commenter from several months ago has given up harassing me. Although I will, of course, refuse to publish any unreasonably nasty comments, I also reserve the right to turn off anonymous commenting again should the need arrive.

I look forward to again hearing from some of my readers who don't have Google accounts!

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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