Freedom of Speech on the Internet

Posted on Aug 25 2020 - 12:58pm by Rohit Shetty

Once upon a time, the world was made up of many, many communities that each had different opinions about free speech. Some allowed it, some prohibited it, and some operated in vast grey areas depending on what their particular dictionaries defined as freedom of speech. It really only mattered what a county’s particular constitution said about free speech, and most of them had something that ended up being somewhere in the middle regarding free speech.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s that it became apparent that there was going to be something that could take the world’s different ideas of free speech and make them all into one basic definition, and one basic idea. That was the internet. The internet was this broad land where anyone could go, and where anyone could post just about anything. There wasn’t anything that was too much for the internet – as things got more complex, sites just got bigger and more able to handle large amounts of information. Everything got bigger, in fact. At last count, there were millions of web sites, and millions of domain names. Everyone wanted in on the action.
Especially the companies that decided to log on to the internet as well. Remember all of them, vying for places to be and domain names, thinking they would hit it rich and make the big time just by being online? It just so happened that there were a lot of business that made it online… and a lot more that did not. When it came right down to it, selling things online was simply another way of selling, and in the selling world, some things work while other things do not.



However, the internet ended up being about much more than selling. It ended up being about having a place to speak your mind and to tell others what you really thought. It very easily become apparent that being online was like being on a huge sounding board, that spread all over the world. You could say anything, and there were no rules and regulations to censor you. Even on sites that had adult content, people were posting things and people were seeing things. There was no way to control what went onto the internet, and there still is no way to make sure certain things stay off of it. It was a nightmare for a country that didn’t want its citizens to see anything.

Before nations were able to log onto the internet, borders between countries meant so much more than they do now. Governments could set rules about the kinds of things that were allowed in their countries. They could search people as they left and came into their countries, taking away things that were either not supposed to leave their home land, or not supposed to be brought in. Governments could control publishing houses, and tell them what they could and could not put into books. Music, writing, and the arts, could all be censored due to the government, and all it would take to enforce the censorship would be government police raiding homes. It was very easy for governments to censor what their citizens were allowed to see, and what they were allowed to do.

There were countries that contained citizens who were not allowed to know anything about the rest of the world. And, when important things happened in these countries, the rest of the world wasn’t allowed to know about it. It was easy for governments to shut down radio and television links and cut phone lines. Information could be trapped and kept, either in a country, or out of a country. For a lot years, you could see that the countries that had leaders who did not want any information about their country to get out were virtually shut off from the rest of the world.

Then, the internet came to be. And since then, boarders have been eliminated, much to the anger of the leaders of countries who do not want their citizens to see things they should not see. It has all changed drastically in the last 20 years. The internet has no country boarders. There is no way to restrict certain sites to be only viewable within a country, and no way to prevent citizens of a country from having access to sites that are within another country. If someone has an internet connection, they can view any sites on the internet. There is no way for a country to only allow its citizens to view one particular site over another, unless they set up an internet of their own and don’t let their citizens connect to other internet sources. The thing about the internet is that no matter how hard someone tries to keep something off of it, it is nearly impossible to do. There are even ways for people to get around sites that require passwords and other things in order to get on the site. Hackers have been logging in to view things for many years, and this means that even if a company tries to make their sites into sites that have restricted or limited viewing, it is going to be to no avail.

This posed a difficult problem for governments that wanted to establish rules and regulations about what their citizens could and could not know. Because it was nearly impossible to outlaw technology like computers and cell phones, it became impossible as well to outlaw the internet, much less restrict what citizens were able to find there, and therefore what they were able to learn, about their country or the rest of the world. This was very frustrating, and still is very frustrating, to countries that want their citizens to have technology but don’t want them to see things that are going on in the real world. Most of the concerns for governments in these countries lie in the fact that when a person logs on to the internet, not only can they access information that their government might not want them to see, they can also access information about their government, and news about their own country, that other countries are reporting. This becomes very dangerous for countries, because many governments try to keep things from their citizens, but these things are impossible for the rest of the world not to notice. When something happens in a particular country, it might not report it to its citizens, but the rest of the world is surely going to notice, and they are going to talk about it. You will find that news, especially news about major operations in different countries, is readily available online. This becomes the norm for people who are trying to look up information about the country that they live in, they will find it out from news sources outside of their country.

In many instances, the internet became the tool of the truth, and thus it remains. In 1990, during the Tiananmen Square rebellion, even though the government tried to shelter the rest of the world from what was going on, other Chinese communities around the world were able to see and hear everything, because of the internet. The same thing happened during the Russian Coup in 1991. The information blackout which took out the television and radio stations was bypassed by an internet company called Relcom, who stayed online in order to keep Soviet citizens, and citizens around the world, up to speed about what was going on. The first real well know Internet Relay Chat occurred during the Kuwait invasion that same year – users logged on and got information up to the second about what was going on in Kuwait, because internet connections and links were able to stay operational more than a week after the radio and televisions were cut out.

Because of situations like these, citizens are able to find out things about their own countries that they might not have ever had access to. This is going to allow someone to be able to see things that their government doesn’t want them to see. If you can look online and see what your government is doing, through the eyes of another country, you are going to learn a lot.

Just look at the United States right now. If we listen to our own news broadcasts, they do tell the news, as in they tell what the government wants us to know. It isn’t always that they aren’t telling us the truth, it is just that they are putting a spin on to it. Especially on conservative media channels, people are talking about things in such a way that makes it hard to believe that our country could do anything but good. Everything that a country like the United States does is good in the eyes of people in the news room. This is blatant propaganda, because they are only reporting the things that might look good to others, and they are failing to report things that might make us look bad. And the style of reporting is the most frustrating of all. The United States has a habit of hiring nice looking people to tell personal interest stories so that everyone will have a nice chuckle and think that our country is the best country in the world. They don’t tell things that are disturbing, and they don’t report news that might not be pretty and beautiful to the other people who are currently watching the programs. If you want to find out news in the United States, the best thing that you can do is to go to a site that reports things that happen in the US but reports them from another perspective. Independent British media channels will tell you want is actually going on in the United States, and they’ll give you an idea of what was said and what was not said, and what really happened. They don’t care how they look, and they don’t care what truths they fail to tell.

That doesn’t meant that the governments feel good about their citizens being able to know what is going on in the world. And it doesn’t mean that governments felt good about allowing access to all of their citizens having access to information. Even in the United States, in 1996, the government attempted to quell freedom of speech on the internet by passing the Communications Decency Act, which tried to prohibit adult material from being distributed on the web. Due to the blatant disregard for freedom of speech, as well as the absolute impossibility of being able to enforce such a law, it was quickly found to be unconstitutional. This doesn’t mean that things like this never happen. All of the time there are reports of websites that get blocked out from certain places. It happens more than you’d think, because the government has hackers as well, and they have people that can go in and find ways to disable sites. There are a lot of ways that sites can become disabled, and if your site is targeted by the government, you can expect that you might have quite a few problems staying online.
It is interesting to note that in that same year, many countries all around the world were trying to make their citizens immune to the freedoms of speech that were showing up all over the place. China mandated that if anyone used the internet, they had to register with the police. Germany banned access to adult newsgroups. Saudi Arabia restricted the internet so that it could only be used in hospitals and universities. Singapore passed restrictions that called for anyone having a political or religious site to register with the government. In New Zealand, the courts declared that computer disks and hard drives were a form of publication, and there fore could be censored. This sounds an awfully lot like what happens in the US though, when a site is taken offline.

Or, you should look at what happens in elementary schools and in public libraries. Yes, there is a reason to limit a student’s access to adult information, but schools have gotten to the point where they are limiting their students’ access to many sites. They have gotten so afraid of students getting into trouble because of something that they find online that they have made it hard for a child to do much of anything on the computers at school. This means that the teachers are also unable to visit the sites that they’d like to visit while at school. Now, I’m not saying that we should let our kids look at porn online while they are at school, but because of all of the limitations, there are plenty of good and decent sites that are becoming more and more off limits to kids in schools, and this is bothersome.
However, even with rules and regulations in certain places, it quickly becomes apparent that a country or a government can try again and again to banish free speech from the internet, and they can try to limit what their citizens see, but in the end, one of these things could contain the power of the internet, or the power of free speech. Even in a place where schools ban certain sites, those sites can’t be taken down permanently because of that. And even if government hackers attack certain sites, that doesn’t mean that those sites are going to be unavailable. It means that people sometimes have to work harder in order to get their rights that are supposed to be infallible.

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