Facebook, Roger Ebert And The Pointlessness Of The Jerk Patrol

from the it-doesn't-work dept

There's been a lot of talk recently about issues concerning "corporate censorship" after Facebook shut down Roger Ebert's page, supposedly because some people complained about his comments (on Twitter, not Facebook) concerning a death, which some took offense to. A lot of people are jumping on the "censorship" bandwagon, and part of it makes me wonder if we need a different word. When a private company "censors," it's quite different from when a government "censors," and using the same word often leads to confusion.

But, perhaps a larger point of this is how private companies now have tremendous say over what speech they will and will not allow. That's legal, but it leads to a certain arbitrariness, as was demonstrated here, with many people thinking Facebook went too far. The company later tried to claim it was a "mistake," but not many people seem to believe that.

However, I think where this gets more interesting is in raising a separate issue: the total pointlessness and arbitrariness of the "jerk patrol." Some people apparently disliked Ebert's comments. That's fair enough, but does a few "offended" people mean he should lose his account? That's what makes lots of people quite uncomfortable. As it should. And yet, as all of this is happening, there are all these efforts to try to criminalize being a "jerk" online. But, as this little kerfuffle shows, what is and what is not "a jerk" or "offensive" is totally subjective, in most cases, and offending one person is hardly a reason to take action against the speaker. It's too bad that Facebook doesn't seem to recognize that, but it's even scarier when governments pass laws without understanding it.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 4:39pm

    As someone who has been affected by the Facebook jerk patrol, I have to agree that giving this much control to one body is pretty scary.

    Granted there are plenty of reason to remove some facebook accounts, groups and pages, but it seems that Facebook does so with no actual investigation. Once they get a complaint, that account is gone.

    To add to the problem is Facebook's completely non-existent "customer service" they rarely respond and when they do, it is with the use of short form letters that do nothing to explain the situation.

    This is turning into a rant, so I will end it now.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 4:46pm

    Eh, Ebert was right. Not sure why so many people are freaking out about the comment...

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 4:49pm

    Re:

    Stop being a jerk to Facebook, they are trying their best. Mike can you take Zach's comment down?

     

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  4.  
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    PrometheeFeu (profile), Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 4:51pm

    I think that companies calling these kinds of things a mistake is much more honest than many people seem to believe. Remember that in companies the size of Facebook, there are many people with varying degrees of influence and power who all have a different idea of the approach the company should have to anything ranging from the bathroom cleaning schedule to the capital structure. Even when there are policies in place they often must leave much to interpretation or the whole organization grinds to a halt.

    So in that context, is it a mistake for Mr. Joe Facebook Administrator to delete the page of some guy who is being a jerk? No, he probably did it intentionally according to his potentially valid understanding of Facebook's policy. But what about for the organization as a whole? You bet it's a mistake. They want to keep things on Facebook bellow the lawsuit level and reduce the incentives for the feds to bust down the door and create new regulation, but they don't want to kick off every jerk out there. It's the same thing as when in the morning you accidentally pour yourself a glass of milk and pour the orange juice in the cereal. (That not just me right?) You have a process that works pretty well most of the time but every once in a while, for one reason or another things are a little bit different and everything goes wrong. That sounds like a mistake to me.

     

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  5.  
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    Jimmy The Geek (profile), Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 4:55pm

    If you haven't violated the terms of service

    Then you should absolutely not be denied service. Being thrown off facebook for something done on twitter is asinine.

    The terms of service are a contract and the advertising dollars you provide facebook is the payment for that contract.

    This "private companies can violate their contracts at their own whim" is ridiculous when all your social contact and purchasing is being done through massively huge monopolies.

    Could bell telephone have denied service to anyone they didn't like back when they were a monopoly? No, of course not. To even consider that idea is ludicrous.

     

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  6.  
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    Nicedoggy, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 5:00pm

    The nice thing about private entities is that you don't need to put up with them, you can just go elsewhere.

    Diaspora seems to be a good alternative have anybody tried that yet. I didn't so I really don't know if it is any good.

    I don't think the "jerk patrol" has any saying in there or other places.

     

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  7.  
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    McBeese, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 5:18pm

    Facebook makes a lot of mistakes and each time they say "Sorry, it was a mistake." And then they move forward without any consequences... so they keep making mistakes.

    Eventually, if they piss enough people off, people will start to go elsewhere. If they want to arbitrarily censor people, so be it. It's their business.

    Government is a much, much bigger worry. Our elected representatives are unable to represent us competently for all matters that are Internet-related. The vacuum of understanding is astounding. Our representatives are easy prey for special-interest lobbyists.

    THE CAMPAIGNS FOR THE NEXT ELECTION ARE BEGINNING. IF WE ELECT ANOTHER CROP OF INTERNET DUMMIES, WHOSE FAULT WILL IT BE?

    The Republicans are the party of censorship and restricted personal freedoms - send them a message to change.

    The Democrats are the party of too much government involvement - tell them to stop messing with things that don't need fixing.

    I'm not optimistic.

     

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  8.  
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    txpatriot, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 5:26pm

    Re: If you haven't violated the terms of service

    I agree that getting tossed off FB for something said on twitter is not reasonable.

    OTOH, many people feed their FB updates to twitter, I suppose its possible for your twitter updates to appear on your FB profile. If that's what Ebert did, I could understand his FB readers getting confused and reporting the post (although I disagree that his post s/b reported in the first place).

    Some people simply have too much time on their hands.

     

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  9.  
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    SUNWARD (profile), Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 5:29pm

    do it on your own

    that is why I use services like facebook and twitter for the simple stuff. Bring everyone to your own website where no one tells you what to do.

    The blog is on my site, not somewhere else.

     

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  10.  
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    Don Alex, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 5:44pm

    they didnt close it because of Ebert's comment

    It was closed because of the vile comments of certain cretins who made "jokes" about cancer at his expense. Yeah, that's a really mature way to stand up for your idol, kids! By the way, Ebert was correct, so deal with it, Jackasses.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 6:17pm

    It really is amazing...

    ...that the sort of thing which was routine online decades ago and really did no more than annoy us is now triggering these kinds of reactions. Mark Ethan Smith (1) was annoying as hell but nobody was stupid enough to try to get any government to take action.

    (1) a proto-troll, far more competent at being such than any of the mere amateurs around today.

     

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  12.  
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    Parkway Cozy, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 7:25pm

    What does it matter? Its gone anyway.

    "private companies now have tremendous say over what speech they will and will not allow. That's legal"

    NO. It is NOT legal. Which is why I have severe doubts if you, Techdirt, and a lot of others in positions to know better, really understand the First Amendment.

    Facebook's TOS does not, under ANY circumstances, trump the First Amendment. Its the other way around. This is yet another way that business has snookered people like you into nullifying the intent of the framers.

    I know Ebert through his writing, and I believe he is not the kind of guy to make insensitive remarks. His timing was off, and who among us has not been guilty of that.

    Don Imus made the same sort of remark. A remark I detest (nappy headed hoes). Yet there is absolutely NO WAY he should have been fired for speaking his mind, whether it was a joke, or he actually believed it.

    Seriously, Techdirt. If you and others like you don't wise up, you're going to turn the Constitution and the Bill of Rights into a corporate press release. The Constitution has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to say about corporate rights. Its about the rights of people, as granted by GOD.

    Jesus Christ! Stop giving you rights away to corporatists!

     

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  13.  
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    VMax, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 7:48pm

    Kind of why Daryll can post

    And Parkway Cozy seems to be heading that way.

     

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  14.  
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    Parkway Cozy, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 7:54pm

    "And Parkway Cozy seems to be heading that way."

    What way is that, son? Try and think before you post.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 7:56pm

    Facebook is a private company, and they can do whatever they want. The first amendment says you have the right to free speech - it doesn't say you have the right to post it on Facebook.

    I think Facebook is lame for taking down the account, but they have every right to do it. It's not censorship - Ebert has plenty of other outlets to express his opinion.

     

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  16.  
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    Festering Pustule, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 8:10pm

    He didn't violate FB's TOS, the people posting on the page did. It was taken down to clean it up, this happens all the time. This time though there's a bunch of ignorant asshats who think they affected social change through brute thuggery to crow about it. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that several other accounts are quietly frozen over the next few weeks.

     

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  17.  
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    A Guy, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 8:11pm

    He could just do what I do... Stay off facebook. If you want to stay in control of the context and release of your information, don't give it to an entity that is financially interested in taking that control away from you. This reminds me of an xkcd...
    http://xkcd.com/743/

     

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  18.  
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    Parkway Cozy, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 8:31pm

    "Facebook is a private company, and they can do whatever they want. The first amendment says you have the right to free speech - it doesn't say you have the right to post it on Facebook."

    Wow. Its really hard to know what to say.

    Congratulations! You've officially bought the corporate BS!

    Private companies operating in the US aren't subject to the Constitution? Since when is this true?

    OK, I'll play your game. Then where is Ebert gonna say it? Twitter? Nah, TOS violation. MySpace? TOS violation. In the Chicago Sun-Times? They might not like it. Ebert and Roper? They'd fire him (which, of course, would be unconstitutional). I suppose he can go down to State St, and shout it on the corner. Seriously, buddy, do you really believe this crock? Do you have any understanding at all of the meaning of free speech, and why its important?

    This is about the fourth time I've come back here, and its not 5 posts till I get this laissez-faire, companies-can-do-whatever-they-want horses**t. I give up. If you want to dismantle the Constitution, do it. I gotta go lift. Circle jerk yourselves into oblivion.

     

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  19.  
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    Parkway Cozy, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 8:38pm

    Just to let y'all know, I responded to Anonymous's post. But Techdirt is holding it for 'moderation', so I don't know if it will show up. The worst thing I said was 'h**** s***', with the *s, so there was nothing inappropriate.

    I guess Techdirt's TOS trumps my right to free speech, huh? About what I've come to expect from this guy.

    My point was, if you all can't figure it out, I got other things to do.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 8:43pm

    Re: What does it matter? Its gone anyway.

    What in the hell are you babbling on about. You accept their TOS and AUP. You effectively sign a contract with them. If said contract has mention they can censor you in any way, don't come begging afterwards boohoo it's not legal. Yes it is.

    The first amendment has nothing to do with Facebook. So go and plain that a private company, to which you agreed to be censored from, that you got censored? You'll be laughed at and pointed to the door.

    Now stop making up rights and go wikipedia a little.

     

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  21.  
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    Jesse (profile), Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 8:46pm

    Re:

    I have to agree with you. Not that that is Mike's point, but it's been pissing me off how many people are rushing to dead jackass' defence. I'm happy he died rather than some innocent child. Whether he was drinking or not is irrelevant...he was driving 130mph.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 8:55pm

    Re: Re:

    And YOU never did anything stupid? I'm sure we could dig up some weird crazy stuff about you too.

    And if you die doing something crazy/stupid, we'll be allowed to say we're glad you died?

    You're an ass. Chose your words more carefully. I wish you a horrible death.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 8:59pm

    This just proves how dependant you all are on Facebook. No one should give a damn about this, but everyone's bitching and complaining, either one way or the other. Why do you care? Is facebook SO important to you? "Oh no, they did something bad. I better go tweet the entire world now otherwise I might implode on myself and take the entire universe with me".

    I guess so... go buy yourselves a life, seriously. I heard they give out free friends at the corner store. This is just sad, really. Wow.

     

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  24.  
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    teka, Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 9:14pm

    Re:

    you.. you are either a fool or a troll.

    Let us ever be willing to help a fool and ignore the trolling.

    Moving on.
    The entire bill of rights, and most of the amendments and various documents only address what the Government can and cannot do.

    The Government cannot quarter soldiers in your home in peacetime, The Government is prohibited from making excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments, etc, so forth.

    A private business is free to do almost anything that does not violate a few specific laws. They can charge you as much as they want for that latte, they can open their doors or stay closed all day And They Can Remove/Block/Edit Your Speech when it is on Their Property. They can take down that post-it note you stuck on their wall and they can remove your facebook post/tweet/forum post for almost any (or no) reason at any time

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Congress.
    Not Facebook, not techdirt..

    nd the trollish whines about "my comment was held for moderation, that means mike masnick is holding a personal vendetta against me" just make you look foolish.

     

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  25.  
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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 11:09pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Ebert said he was glad the kid died? Make up some more shit, please.

    He was an idiot, drove drunk, and killed himself and his passenger. If it were just some random guy, his name would be vilified across the internet, but because he's a movie star somehow he gets sympathy? Not from me.

    His friends and family get my sympathy because they lost someone they cared about, but that guy was a complete jackass.

     

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  26.  
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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Jun 22nd, 2011 @ 11:12pm

    Re: What does it matter? Its gone anyway.

    The first amendment applies to the government, not private entities. If I invite you to my house, and you start shouting obscenities at my family and guests, I'm going to kick your ass out, and good luck trying to sue me for violating your "first amendment rights".

    (Why does TechDirt attract these kinds of people? o_O)

     

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  27.  
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    taoareyou (profile), Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 1:03am

    I'm Surprised Actually

    I can't believe there hasn't been some group form up whose express purpose is to be offended by something, ANYTHING and go to every major Facebook group and complain and try to have to group shut down.

    Seriously, if they can do flash mobs where people actually go meet someplace, I'm sure they could organize even larger Facebook group complaint mobs. I bet you could get thousands to complain just for the griefing factor. Imagine if you could get 5,000 complaints from offended Facebook users. I wonder how fast they could get any group shut down.

    It would certainly cause FB to at least consider with more clarity what would cause a take down.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 1:41am

    Opinions are like assholes - everyones got one.

     

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  29.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 2:20am

    Re: What does it matter? Its gone anyway.

    NO. It is NOT legal. Which is why I have severe doubts if you, Techdirt, and a lot of others in positions to know better, really understand the First Amendment.

    Yes, it is legal, and yes I understand the First Amendment.

    Facebook's TOS does not, under ANY circumstances, trump the First Amendment. Its the other way around. This is yet another way that business has snookered people like you into nullifying the intent of the framers.

    No one said it trumps the First Amendment. It's just that the First Amendment does not apply here. At all. The First Amendment just says what Congress cannot do -- and it cannot make laws abridging the freedom of speech.

    A private entity is free to block speech. That is not at all impacted by the First Amendment.

    It may not be smart. It may cause problems. And people can get upset about it. But it's legal. The First Amendment has nothing to do with it. At all.

    Seriously, Techdirt. If you and others like you don't wise up, you're going to turn the Constitution and the Bill of Rights into a corporate press release. The Constitution has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to say about corporate rights. Its about the rights of people, as granted by GOD.

    (1) We never said it said anything about corporate rights. (2) You might want to try reading the actual document.

     

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  30.  
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    Lauriel (profile), Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 2:59am

    Re: Re: Re:

    >> "You're an ass. Chose your words more carefully. I wish you a horrible death."

    Great example of irony! Well done Sir. I hope you won't be too disappointed when I wish you a long and happy life, even though I disagree with your statements?

     

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  31.  
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    aikoaiko2, Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 5:54am

    After watching countless firends and family get involved in nonsense, I have come to the simple conclusion:

    facebook = evil

     

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  32.  
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    ChrisB (profile), Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 6:28am

    Re:

    > facebook = evil

    That makes about as much sense as:

    telephone = evil

     

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  33.  
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    Joe Publius (profile), Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 6:33am

    One more reason for me to be glad I stayed away from FB. I get plenty of internet drama from my favorite websites, I don't need more!

     

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  34.  
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    jdub (profile), Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 9:08am

    Re: Re: What does it matter? Its gone anyway.

    I agree with you Mike, that it is legal right now, but maybe it's time for it to be changed. I mean if your a corporate entity whose business is to essentially build a social hang out where anyone can join and talk to each other, then maybe First amendment rights should be applied.

    Facebook is nothing more then a on online virtual courtyard for people to gather and communicate, maybe it should be turned over to the public and regulated as any other public entity. LOL.

     

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  35.  
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    BongoBern (profile), Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 9:37am

    Jerk Patrols

    The world is full of Jerk Patrols, groups or gangs (flocks?) of like-minded no-nothings who look LOOK for programing they object to so they can object to it, behaviour they dislike so they can whine about it, issues that normally they have nothing to do with (and don't have anything to do with them) that they can raise hell about just to irritate those of us who enjoy knowing that there are all sorts of differences out there, and we can decide for ourselves what we like. The tea party is a good example of people who are making a great deal of noise about things that only pertain to their narrow view. Most of the rest of us want nothing to do with it!

     

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  36.  
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    hegemon13, Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 11:30am

    Re: Re: Re: What does it matter? Its gone anyway.

    Absolutely not. A company's right to censor is directly attached to their right to free speech. A company's censorship is part of their right to free speech, that is, their right to say or not say something. Their Web site is their private property, and not subject to government restrictions on speech (or private censorship thereof). For Congress to pass a law that stops the right to privately censor content, they would be infringing, not protecting, the Constitutional right to free speech of that company and it's individuals. They would also be violating private property rights.

    Getting the government involved requires us to grant the government the power of when and where censorship is allowed. Suddenly churches, schools, etc could be sued for censoring content on their Web sites because they don't have "permission" to do so from the government. Creating a government regulation on the right to express or not express speech, whether your own or someone else's, on your private Web site would be a gross violation of rights and a massive expansion of the government's power over our speech.

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 11:32am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: What does it matter? Its gone anyway.

    grant the government the power of *determining* when and where censorship is allowed

     

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  38.  
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    hegemon13, Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 12:05pm

    Re:

    "Private companies operating in the US aren't subject to the Constitution? Since when is this true?"

    Since forever. The first amendment only prohibits Congress from restricting free speech. It has NO impact on private parties, except to protect their free speech, which means they may censor or not censor their PRIVATELY OWNED Web site however they see fit.

     

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  39.  
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    PrometheeFeu (profile), Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 1:31pm

    Re: Re: What does it matter? Its gone anyway.

    I definitely think this is not censorship. Think about it. Censorship is when someone is prevented from saying something. If Facebook prohibits content from their service, the content and ideas are not censored. They can still appear in other places and in other formats. Facebook is simply choosing not to display something they don't want to display.

     

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  40.  
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    JMG, Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 1:45pm

    Re:

    "Reply to this" link, Mo**** Fu****! Can you click it?!

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 2:05pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    He didn't care enough about his life to not drink and drive. Why should I care about his life?

     

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  42.  
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    crl, Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 3:49pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    dont be mad about Dunn- he just didnt get enough car up his ass the first time, so he thought he would try something new..... worked beautifully- im laughing....

     

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  43.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2011 @ 4:23pm

    censorship

    Censorship is censorship. It is always wrong and it doesn't matter who does the censoring.

     

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  44.  
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    Mike Wells, Jun 24th, 2011 @ 8:29am

    Re: What does it matter? Its gone anyway.

    Private companies have EVERY right to limit what you say in their forums. The Constitution says that CONGRESS cannot limit free speech. This has been expanded to include ALL government entities, but unless FB is a gov't run web service, you don't have a leg to stand on.

    Go back to school, the First Amendment's free speech protections mean that you can't be arrested for speaking freely, not that a private corporation can't decide what you do and DON'T get to say on their provided message forums. This isn't new, BTW, and no amount of tea bags is going to make something "go back" to a state that never existed int he first place.

     

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  45.  
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    anon., Jun 24th, 2011 @ 7:03pm

    the bottom line is right here: "When a private company 'censors,' it's quite different from when a government 'censors.'" Facebook was within it's rights to "censor" Ebert in the eyes of the law.

    Was Ebert's tweet insensitive? Absolutely. Was he incorrect? No. Did he make the tweet because he's bitter over the fact that the Jackass enterprise is an entertainment titan and his best-known film work was penning the screenplay to "beyond the valley of the dolls," which is shittier quality than Jackass? Yes.

     

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