Wednesday, July 16, 2003

You know, the beauty of the Internet is that it's unregulated. It's freedom of expression taken to the max. People in Iraq and Iran and such places can use the Net to let the rest of us know what's going on in their countries--Salam Pax and all the Persian bloggers are an example. Intelligent people like engineer Steven den Beste and law professor Glenn Reynolds and musician Dr. Frank and businessperson-diplomat Jane Galt and Christian Jesus Gil and atheist Laurence Simon, who wouldn't have been published in the old days (circa 1998) because they're just a little offbeat for the big media, publish themselves and are a wonderful addition and complement to what we thought the news was just five years ago. Us dummies, like me and most of the rest of us, get to spout off about whatever's on our little minds, and we are comforted by the fact that at least somebody is listening to what we have to say. I love the Internet and I love the blogosphere.

But the problem with freedom is when it gets abused. As readers of this blog do not know, there was an extremely dumb serious blogfight last month involving (at least tangentially) heavy hitters Treacher, Blair, Olsen, Harris, and Slade. We just found out about it ourselves and thought we'd do a little research. If you check out this thread of comments from when the issue was hot, you will see some obvious lying and paranoia going on, and, what shocked me, death threats.

Now, there are various legal restrictions on the freedom of expression. False advertising is illegal, as is any form of fraud involving false promises. You can't write or say malicious lies about someone; that's called libel or slander. You can't lie under oath; that's called perjury. In many democratic countries Nazi propaganda and other racist material is illegal. Here in democratic Spain apology for terrorism is illegal. In the democratic US "hate speech" or "racial intimidation" is considered an aggravating factor to a crime. In democratic Japan and Canada pornography is tightly restricted. In some democratic places, like Belgium and Catalonia and Quebec, the choice of whichever language is used in certain situations is regulated by law. You can't shout "Fire" in a crowded theater, and you can't incite a riot, and you can't discuss a plan to break the laws--that's called conspiracy. In the United States you may not advocate the armed overthrow of the government. And you can't make threats, especially not threats involving violence; if there's no violence involved, it's called blackmail, and if violence is involved, it's assault. (If you carry out the threat, it's assault and battery.) You are also not allowed to encourage people to make threats or to break any other laws; remember the movie The Accused, based on a real Massachussetts case, where those who verbally encouraged a group of gang-rapists were convicted and imprisoned. Same goes for assault and blackmail, of course.

You will notice that several of the posters in the thread I linked to made threats, some involving assault and others merely involving blackmail, and that other posters encouraged them to continue to do so.

That is not acceptable behavior. In fact, it's against the law.

And it's the kind of bullshit that is going to get us all regulated if we don't keep our free expression within the grounds of legal behavior. Hey, I mix it up and I insult people and I'm irritatingly outspoken, but I don't think I've ever broken any laws on this blog. Please correct me if I am wrong about this (breaking laws, that is, not shooting off my mouth) and I will immediately change my behavior. But I think I'm well within my rights and within the law, and this here blog is full of not only my free expression but also of the commenters'.

And I like it that way, and I don't want the government breathing down my neck (or getting my Internet provider breathing down my neck, which is more likely) about what I say. I think I am responsible enough to use my freedom of speech without anybody's supervision.

And I think the above-linked thread of comments demonstrates that some other people are not so responsible.

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