Reasons Free Speech Doesn’t Apply to Everything

Posted on by admin | in longhorn

Free speech is crucial to maintaining a free society protected from tyranny. The internet is considered by many to be the least regulated or censored source of information ever available, and battles rage every day to keep it that way. It may seem like anyone from anywhere can post things online, but in reality there are limits. Even though it’s nearly impossible to prevent something from being posted online, there are protections in place to block or remove them. People enjoy the freedom and anonymity of the internet, but need to keep their expression within reason. Here are 10 reasons free speech doesn’t apply to everything online.

  1. International – Free speech is a right protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. However, the internet is international, so those First Amendment rights don’t apply in other countries. Americans should appreciate how precious their freedom of speech is when they find themselves blocked on the internet in other countries.
  2. Copyright laws – One of the main exceptions to free speech is when it violates copyright law, and this applies to the internet as well. People don’t have the right to steal the work or ideas of others and there are laws to protect the victims of online theft.
  3. Trademarks and Patents – There are also trademark and patent laws to protect intellectual property online. You can’t use free speech as an excuse to copy trademarked words or logos or borrow patented material and distribute them on the internet.
  4. Service agreements – Just about everything you do online requires you to read and accept a service agreement. Most people don’t even bother to read them, even though there could be something you agree to that could possibly limit your freedom of speech. For example, you can’t post anything on Facebook, YouTube, or MySpace without agreeing to their rules first.
  5. Parental controls – Parents need to protect their children from obscene and harmful content on the internet, so these parental controls will limit what they have access to online. Your freedom of expression will not be available to everyone everywhere.
  6. Personal harm – There are laws to protect individuals against personal harm inflicted by the words and expressions of others. Libel, slander, and hate speech are all areas that limit what you can say and do online.
  7. Flagging – If someone finds something they think is offensive online they can flag it. In most cases this will result in the posting being removed while it’s being reviewed. This can be only temporary or permanent depending on the review outcome.
  8. Vague rules – Many online terms of service have vague rules that give website administrators nearly unlimited power to regulate what is posted on their sites. These companies have different processes for limiting access or removing material posted on websites under their control.
  9. Public vs. private space – Different laws apply regarding free speech depending on whether the speech is done in a public or private space. On the internet there are both, so what you say online can be restricted depending on where you post it.
  10. Privacy – There are laws to protect the privacy of individuals online and they differ from one country to the next. People want their privacy respected and they should consider that when they post things on social media such as Twitter or blogs.

The founding fathers of the United States of America knew how important free speech was to protect citizens from the overreach of government. They came from a country where criticizing the government was a crime. Our modern society needs to protect those rights while also protecting individuals and companies from harm. Over the years the legal process in our country has struggled with these issues and continues to do so with respect to how free speech applies to the internet. Despite the exceptions, the broad legal protections of the First Amendment remain a critical and controversial component of American jurisprudence.


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