Free speech fair, but be nice, too

From a young age, we were taught that if we cannot think of something nice to say, we should bite our tongues and say nothing at all. Mean personal comments were meant to remain private and unspoken. With the introduction of blogging, we can anonymously release all of our thoughts through MySpace, Facebook and Xanga. We practically live in the technologically advanced world known as the blogosphere. However, leaving hateful, threatening comments on another blogger’s post has evolved into a major controversy.

According to The New York Times, Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher, teamed up with Jimmy Wales, the creator of Wikipedia, to establish a code of conduct for the Web. This code would have a list of guidelines created and agreed upon by the bloggers and would be posted on the bloggers’ sites.

David Weinberger of hyperorg.com/blogger supported the idea saying, “The aim of the code is not to homogenize the Web but to make clearer the informal rules that are already in place anyway.”

Some people felt that the censorship of blog comments inhibited them from openly expressing themselves and violated their right to free speech.

Kent Chapline, executive Web producer at KTVT and part-time faculty member, said the code is a nice idea, but maintaining freedom of speech and enforcing it throughout the Web would be difficult.

“Part of the point of this whole country is that you can say what you want within certain parameters, but it’s got to be pretty severe speech to be illegal – you can’t threaten the president – but by and large being rude is not a crime,” he said.

The main issue surrounding this controversy is the fact that the Web is a completely different kind of medium. The Internet is a great place to share personal beliefs because it is not monitored by the government. It also has no universal set of standards and punishments; it was silently understood that people write civil comments in online discussions. That was until the emergence of cyberbullying.

Richard Silverstein, creator of a blog supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace (richardsilverstein.com), reported receiving hateful comments from readers who opposed his ideas. One person even created a parody of the Web site with disturbing pictures of Silverstein.

Overall, the bloggers still have more control over the significantly larger commenting community. They are responsible for the content on their Web sites and can delete any comments that are overly rude and offensive. Having a personal Web site gives one the ability to control what appears on it. For those who are so determined to undermine other bloggers, they should create their own blogs and utilize their right to free speech there. But in the end, people can do whatever they want to do because no one polices what appears in blogs.

“In terms of just embarrassing somebody or making fun of them, no, there’s nothing that can be done, and I don’t think that there’s anything that should be done,” Chapline said. “You can’t shut down the right of people to say what they want as long as they’re not threatening anybody or things like that. No, I don’t think there’s anything that should be done certainly in cases of lampooning, parodying or satirizing.”

Blogging allows for freedom of expression for everyone, but no one likes a cyberbully.

Alyssa Dizon is a sophomore broadcast journalism major from Aiea, Hawaii.