Facebook and Free Speech

3 05 2010

I noticed on my news feed today that somebody had joined a “Petition to Remove Facebook Group Praying for President Obama’s Death” group.  That got me thinking about how free speech applies in an online setting.

Obviously, as private entities, sites like Facebook may not run afoul of the First Amendment if they were to censor or shut down pages/groups if enough people complained.  Indeed, for every potentially offensive group out there (“Fuck the Troops,” Holocaust-denying groups, racist/homophobic groups, etc.), there is at least one or two more with thousands of members “petitioning” to get said group removed.

It is a cornerstone of First Amendment jurisprudence that the government may not prohibit speech solely because it offends someone.  But we are not talking about the government, but privately-held websites.  What precedent do we set by shutting down groups that a few thousand miscreants take offense to?

The irony is that a lot of these groups are all for free speech when it’s someone they agree with, but when it’s someone who they don’t agree with, no expense is spared in trying to shut them out of the Internet.

What disconcerts me is that there are people out there actively looking for such groups.  It’s almost as if there are people on the Internet with nothing better to do than to look for groups/pages that they vehemently disagree with and try to get them shut down.

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