Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Concept of Free Speech and the Internet Environment

As part of a free society, citizens are left to their own decisions and have the choice to do whatever they please, as long as they do not break the law or interfere with someone else’s liberties. Despite the perception that in a liberal society we are free to express ourselves in a very open manner, we still have to abide by certain rules and be cautious not to interfere with other people’s privacy.

The same rule applies for free speech. A citizen is not really free to say whatever comes to mind without taking into consideration the fact that other people may be offended by such remarks. One thing one should keep in perspective is the fact that there are always consequences resulted from our actions.

In regard to free speech on the internet it gets even more complicated because the Web offers a vast array of ideas based on different cultural values, religious beliefs and social differences. When we put all these elements together what we see is a head on collision with the concept of free speech. Such conflict quite often results in some kind of censorship. [1]

Each human being has a unique way of expressing his perception of the world. Depending on the context of one’s ideas and the material exposed on the Web, he may be restricted in certain areas to protect the viewer’s interests and values. Three countries that have such strict rules about what can be viewed on the internet are China, Saudi Arabia and Ira.

“The Great Firewall” of China is a typical example of how strict the government can be in regard to the subject of free speech. “There are Internet police in China. They have websites, lots of them. They engage in law enforcement duties. They also investigate websites. It is also, in my view, safe to assume that they investigate and arrest dissidents…” says Nart Villeneuve, Internet Censorship Explorer. [4]

In both, Ira and Saudi Arabia, there is a concern on the part of authorities that immoral material content from the Western world may reach its citizen’s homes and that represents a serious threat to the Islam traditions [2]. Besides those three countries, Australia is known to have the most restrictive Internet Censorship regulations among the Western world countries.

One of the greatest concerns in the US is the danger of exposing children to pornography. In that regard, the parents play an important role in preventing their children from being exposed to such materials. [1][2][3]. There are many ways in which the implementation of Web censorship can take place. The most widely used methods are through firewalls, Internet filters, blocking, PNS Poisoning and Internet zoning.

Censorship can happen at different levels. Parents may restrict their children from viewing certain material which they consider inappropriate. Government agencies can block certain pages they consider to be a national security risk.

A growing number of people have become increasingly unsatisfied as they reinforce that Web censorship “ignores free-speech rights and violates the civil liberties of internet users” over the years [1]. I realize that when so many different cultures, beliefs, and ideas cross the line in this vast environment which makes up the Web, it is unavoidable to compromise freedom and free speech.

I personally believe that the internet is a great tool but it needs to be used wisely considering the vast array of options presented to me. In regard to free speech I am always entitled to express my ideas freely as long as I obey certain rules.

I find it important to give careful consideration to proper use of language or imagery to avoid present and future annoyances. Despite the internet being considered a great vehicle for exchanging of ideas, one will always have to deal with the fact that free speech has its boundaries and it could mean different things for different people.

Work Cited

[1], Infoweblinks, “web censorship”
[2] Infoweblinks, “china finds freedom behind great wall”[3], Infowebliks “internet filtering saudi arabia in 2004”[4], Nart Villeneuve

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