Blogging Freedom of Speech: Can You Really Say Whatever You Want?

Filed as Features on March 27, 2007 8:24 am

Copycense was incensed by the idea of journal publishing being compared to slavery, a claim made by Richard Smith, a member of the board of directors at the US Public Library of Science in a public speech recently. Their response was to condemn the reference.

The increasingly dark, dire imagery used to characterize issues within the digital content debate too often goes far beyond framing, spin, or public relations. Language like this is grossly unprofessional and personally indecent. Nothing in this debate is nearly as urgent or serious as terrorism, illegal drug trafficking, or slavery, and the people who insist on perpetuating this language should be censured. Enough is enough.

I have to say that this condemnation speaks loudly for much of the writing and creative license with words I find on many blogs today. Freedom of speech isn’t permission to just say anything and everything you want to say. Sure, you can say whatever you want, but there are consequences you must live with if others don’t like what you say, or the law disagrees with your right to say it.

The United States is living in a time when freedom of speech is persecuted from every angle by the government. It’s okay to be for the President or for the troupes, but let’s pound you into the ground if you are against the war. If you are against the war, you must be against the President. You are definitely against the troupes. They seem to forget that you can be for many things and against many things, and the connections do not have to connect.

There are now huge file cabinets filled with rules and regulations on what you can say, how you can say it, where you can say it, and if you can even open your mouth with the intension to say something in the United States. In some parts of the world it is worse. There is only a piece of paper with one sentence on it that sets the rules: If you say anything publicly about the government without permission, you will die.

Consider the case of a blog post by Yang, a Chinese man fighting the Chinese government and courts to prevent his property from demolition for a shopping mall. His post was shut down after a huge flood of attention, though it’s still unclear as to who or what turned off the blog light switch. China has a long history of turning off that which they don’t want in the light.

Bloggers Right imageBlogs offer an opportunity to let your voice be heard. To ring out with every comment, opinion, advice, lecture, pontification, and babble you want, as long as the rules of your country, Internet Provider, web host, discussion group provider, discussion group moderator, blog owner, and all the other little admirals that control the blogosphere allow you.

Do you feel any of the “freedom of speech” restrictions when you blog? Are you blogging at risk of confrontation, imprisonment, or other personal risks? Do you really believe blogging gives you the right to say any thing, any time, in any way, without repercussions?

For your consideration, here are some references to help you learn more about the risks many bloggers around the world take to let their blogging voices be heard, along with the risks that come with blogging to everyone who blogs.


Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on .

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  1. By Amrit Hallan posted on March 27, 2007 at 9:17 am
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    I think the danger of persecution exists in all spheres of public, and even private life, and freedom is just perceptual, or circumstantial. If you are a journalist, you can be persecuted by people in the government or against the government. Similarly, if you are a poet, a photographer, a singer or any artist who can use his or her art to express or reflect upon reality, you are open to persecution both from legal and illegal agencies. The same goes for bloggers because blogging is a highly interactive activity, and in fact repressive regimes would find blogging more threatening because of its wide reach and ease of creation.

    I have a blog where I write on social issues, and I do restrain sometimes.

  2. Starked SF, Unforgiving News from the Bay » Blog Archive » Linker Barn: Tuesday, March 27March 27, 2007 at 9:38 am
  3. By ploop posted on March 27, 2007 at 9:44 am
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    Another fine post.
    As a former journalist I find I can blog and speak the truth without ‘massaging’ the language a little. I also find I can be a little ruder that I was when I broadcast on the BBC – but this rudeness isn’t gratuitous, it just means I can be honest without working out who will, or won’t, hinder my career. This is very liberating.

    However, it’s worth remembering that having a blog is a privilege we are very lucky to have. Freedon of speech is also a privilege. Neither give us the right to libel or de downright nasty (ok, so some people deserve to be vilified!)

  4. By Michael Rew posted on March 27, 2007 at 10:39 am
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    Yang’s post may have been censored in China, but in America, you have the freedom to protest all you want. The government will still demolish your property so someone else can build a shopping mall (Kelo v. New London). The end result is the same, comrade.

  5. By Darnell Clayton posted on March 27, 2007 at 11:48 am
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    Confused?

    [quote]The United States is living in a time when freedom of speech is persecuted from every angle by the government. It’s okay to be for the President or for the troupes, but let’s pound you into the ground if you are against the war. If you are against the war, you must be against the President. You are definitely against the troupes. They seem to forget that you can be for many things and against many things, and the connections do not have to connect.[/quote]

    Where are you getting this from? I know people who are against the war, and for the President (and vice versa) and none of them fear of being taken in the dark.

    I even have family members who actively (in public and private) express their views of the war.

    Freedom of speech isn’t exactly fashionable in China (especially if your faith/philosophy conflicts with the government) but to accuse the US of the same thing seems a bit far fetched.

    Aside from that, this was a great post.

    PS

    Similar voices are being squashed out in Egypt, probably a good indicator that dictatorships and real journalism do not mix very well.

  6. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on March 27, 2007 at 4:42 pm
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    That example came directly “quote – end quote” from a family member, and 3 other family members applauded the quoter. “If you are against the president, you are against the troupes. If you are against the war, you are against the troupes.” I didn’t see the connection, but they did. I’ve been living, until very recently, in the deep southern US and heard this same view many times.

    When I had just returned to the United States, I gently asked someone “What do you think of the president?” I was verbally assaulted in response and accused of undermining the government and our wonderful president and believing all those lies about no weapons of mass destruction and how Saddam was really in with the terrorist attack in New York and DC because that’s why Bush attacked…and, well, it was horrible. All I’d done was ask what they thought. I hadn’t said anything else. But they told me what I had said and what they believed they heard, and I got it clear how they thought and felt about their political views, and a whole lot about what they believed my political views were. No freedom of speech in that house. ;-)

    Having lived for a long time in the Middle East, I learned a lot about the difference between freedom of speech and government’s illusion of freedom of speech. BIG difference, and Egypt is a good example.

    Since my return to the states, I’ve learned that you can say what you want, as long as you are in the privacy of your home. If you take it to the streets, there are laws now on where and how you can “protest” and what you can protest about. I’ve learned that one person’s idea of free speech is another’s idea of treason. I’ve learned that the government can hold you in jail for no reason, no access to an attorney or the outside world, and they are not only justified, they are supported in this action by twists in the law and support of an apathetic nation.

    As “free” as the United States is, I’m totally stunned at the level of censorship and control over that freedom. I fear US citizens have taken their freedoms so much for granted, they’ve ignored them when they’ve been taken away slowly, assuming they will always be there.

    Blogs give people a voice, but, as I said in the article, it comes with a price and you have to be willing to pay the price if you want the freedom to say what you want. Sad.

  7. By Edrei posted on March 27, 2007 at 8:19 pm
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    Now I can say something about this because I come from Malaysia where this fight is being played out at this very moment.

    Recently two bloggers in Malaysia are being sued for libel because of blogging about how certain journalist and government spin doctors and that they are plagiarising the works of other people. Also recently another blogger was also being sued for libel against a Malaysian airline company for blogging about how women (specifically his wife) are dismissed from word for being pregnant.

    There are but 2 incidents in Malaysia where freedom of speech have clashed with bloggers because under Malaysian law, you’re not allowed seditious and hateful comments towards other people especially the government.

    I attribute this problem to the lack of bloggers actually fighting for their right to free speech and the current political scene in Malaysia. It’s a problem that is easily solved, but runs into so many obstacles seeing that a lot of Malaysian bloggers only care about themselves.

    The worst thing in all this is that Malaysian bloggers have a skewed sense of the idea to the freedom of speech. Freedom of speech as I understand it is not the freedom to say whatever is on your mind. It is the freedom to be responsible for whatever you’re saying, because if you’re going to say something, you might as well have the evidence to back up what you’re saying. Most importantly, take the flak for what comes your way.

    Most Malaysian bloggers are discovering that the freedom of speech does come with consequence that you cannot run away from and it’s a hard lesson to learn especially for some.

  8. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on March 27, 2007 at 10:44 pm
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    You are right on the mark, my friend. Freedom of speech is about accepting the responsibility. Unfortunately, in many countries, as you mentioned, the responsibility (aka consequences) can mean imprisonment or worse.

    When we can speak freely, without the intent to do harm with our words against individuals, to freely criticize the government, politicians, and how our world is being run, then well, wouldn’t that be a world filled with great possibilities.

    It’s really interesting how freedom of speech is not just controlled and restricted by the government, as in your example, Edrei, but also by our fellow citizens, as in my example.

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