The Power Of Intermediaries To Silence Speech Online

from the forget-big-brother,-look-out-for-the-corporations dept

While plenty of people worry about the possibility of government censorship online, some are noticing that the real issue isn't with government censorship but the fact that various intermediaries, in the form of service and application providers have the power to make content disappear online -- and they are often being pressured to do so, even if it's perfectly legal. This means that various hosting companies or other services, such as MySpace and Facebook often have tremendous power to hide content that it dislikes (or that someone else convinces them they should take down).

While the really egregious examples of taking down content are often brought to light by people complaining, it is a reminder that you might not really control all the content you think you control. This can be true even if you think you "control" your own domain. If the content is hosted by a service provider, often it can be convinced to pull down your content. While this should lead to more companies who promise not to get involved, there really are only a few who promote themselves that way (and it often gets even more difficult with laws that require "notice and takedown" such as the DMCA in the US). While this might not be a huge problem for most people, it is worth remembering how much power these various intermediaries may have over what you consider to be "your" content.

Filed Under: free speech, intermediaries

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  1. identicon
    Vince, 8 Jul 2008 @ 6:23am

    free speech

    Thank you for a wonderful article. The danger to free speech from intermediaries is quite significant. But this is not limited to online intermediaries. Any employer can limit your speech, by claiming that it embarasses the company. Many people havebeen fired fro their jobs because they made controversial comments. Political activists often pressure employers to take action against offending employees, and employers almost never resist, but take the easy way out. In effect, you have freedom of speech in this country, only if you are independently wealthy or unemployed. That is the American way!

    My opinion is that speech should be protected absolutely. Anything short of that will be abused. Speech almost never hurts people, unless it is an immediate and direct endangerment or threat, and even then if there is an opportunity to counter it, it should be protected. That includes hate speech. That includes illegal pornography. And yes, it includes violent images. As long as they are not forced upon you, and you can block them, and refuse to look at and listen to them, they should be allowed.

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