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Censorship The Internet Your Rights Online

Online "Public" Spaces Don't Guarantee Rights 347

mikesd81 recommends an AP piece covering a lot of examples of the ways free speech and other rights don't exist on the private Web. One case featured was that of Dutch photographer Maarten Dors, who had this picture deleted by flickr. Without prior notice, Yahoo deleted the photo on grounds it violated an unwritten ban on depicting children smoking. While Dors eventually got the photo restored, after the second time it was deleted, the case highlights the consequence of having online commons controlled by private corporations. "Rules aren't always clear, enforcement is inconsistent, and users can find content removed or accounts terminated without a hearing. Appeals are solely at the service provider's discretion. Users get caught in the crossfire as hundreds of individual service representatives apply their own interpretations of corporate policies, sometimes imposing personal agendas or misreading guidelines. First Amendment protections generally do not extend to private property in the physical world, allowing a shopping mall to legally kick out a customer wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a smoking child." Reason.com has some more analysis on the issues brought up by the AP story.
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Online "Public" Spaces Don't Guarantee Rights

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  • by Mesa MIke ( 1193721 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @04:45PM (#24106631) Homepage

    ...you gotta do it yourself, (and host it on your own servers)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If you want a job done right, ...you gotta do it yourself, (and host it on your own servers)

      Until your upstream provider cuts you off... or your registrar cancels your domain name... or you get removed from search engines...

      • by KillerCow ( 213458 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @05:03PM (#24106959)

        If you want a job done right, ...you gotta do it yourself, (and host it on your own servers)

        Until your upstream provider cuts you off... or your registrar cancels your domain name... or you get removed from search engines...

        you missed one: or ISPs block customers from accessing you [opennet.net].

        • by Alaren ( 682568 )

          Indeed. Moreover, your average user is not in a position to host their own stuff, what with the "80 bajillionbits download/1 kilobit upload" connections the telecoms insist on selling us. Of course, most people don't want the hassle of setting up their own hosting, so the market demand for upstream is low.

          You're right, of course. But your average user is not exactly in a position to do that sort of thing, what with the "80 bajillionbits download/1 kilobit upload" connections the telecoms insist on sell

      • If rotten.com can stay on the wire, so can you.
    • and host it on your own servers
      And then your registrar will take you down.

      Also, no one will see your blog postings if you're not on one of the big sites.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TubeSteak ( 669689 )

      ...you gotta do it yourself, (and host it on your own servers)

      And hope that /. or [large website] never links to you.

      Could your webhosting handle a /.'ing?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 )
      This is what net neutrality is all about. Anything inconvenient can be made painfully slow to use. This has already been handled by giving users shitty upload speeds and dynamic IPs, which forces users to host their data, which makes it easier to remove from the mainstream cluster of websites.
  • No Shit? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clifyt ( 11768 ) <{sonikmatter} {at} {gmail.com}> on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @04:47PM (#24106663)

    Next you know, someone is going to tell me I can't have free speech in someone else's home!

    If I can't go into random people's houses, and in privately owned property and say what I want, you are oppressing me!!!

    • Re:No Shit? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @04:51PM (#24106739)

      I know you're just being a smartass, but what you have actually said is literally true.

      You absolutely CAN have free speech in someone else's home. They also have the right to ask you to leave, but you absolutely, most certainly are FREE to hold and express whatever opinions you want.

      Free speech does not guarantee a receptive audience, it only protects your right to express yourself.

      That being said, and back on topic, I personally see websites such as this as being in the middle. This isn't a case of someone sullying flickr's personal space with their own, unwelcome content. This is flickr providing a place to publish, then censoring that publication without informed consent.

      Those are two very, very different things.

    • Re:No Shit? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bistromath007 ( 1253428 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @04:53PM (#24106773)
      As with any example of this problem, the issue is ubiquity. There are few, if any, open fora today, since almost all space where you have hope of reaching any ears is either private space, or standing close enough to it that they get to complain anyway. It's one of many ways in which the government, finding itself reaching limits too politically dangerous to breach outright, basically outsource the business of limiting individual freedoms to large corporations on the basis that the corporations need freedom, too. This is the very root of fascism.
      • This guy needs a mod-up.

        The establishment of "free speech zones" marked the end of the US as a free constitutional republic.

        We entered fascist territory then, and have been plunging into the abyss ever since.

      • Quick! Let us nationalize teh intarwebs.
        That'll remove the fascism from the system!

    • by Estanislao Martínez ( 203477 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @04:53PM (#24106775) Homepage

      Of course other people should be able to control how others make use of their property. Nobody's denying that. The question is: where can you exercise your right to free speech in the Internet, without being subject to others' right to control how you make use of their property?

      In real life, there exist spaces that are clearly public. In the Internet, there aren't any obvious ones. Even if you try to set up your own site, the various providers may censor you if they choose to do so.

    • My thoughts exactly. You're calling me a Reaganite because I oppose you coming into my house and putting pictures of Sesame Street characters smoking weed and drinking Everclear all over my toddler's bedroom walls?

    • Next you know, someone is going to tell me I can't have free speech in someone else's home!

      If I can't go into random people's houses, and in privately owned property and say what I want, you are oppressing me!!!

      "Next you know, someone is going to tell me I can't have free speech in the home I rented from someone else!"

      "If I can't go into my rented house, and in privately owned property i'm renting and say what I want, you are oppressing me!!!"

      Fixed.

      • "If I can't go into my rented house, and in privately owned property i'm renting and say what I want, you are oppressing me!!!"

        As long as what you say goes no further than the walls of your house. Start yelling obscenities out the window at the neighbors, and I think the landlord (and the police) might have a wee problem with that.

    • you could apply the same reasoning to government owned stuff too and that.. that's a mistake. you could invision a scenario where the last mile was nationalized and this very excuse used to censor or otherwise violate free speech rights because after all it's going over their stuff.
  • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @04:48PM (#24106687)

    Libertarians seem to forget or blithly ignore that the government is not the only means of restricting your rights. For the vast majority of US history, corporations have been bigger threats to individual rights.

  • Um.... duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 201 ( 578873 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @04:49PM (#24106691) Journal

    Flickr isn't a public place. It's a private place they let other people use. You agree to their terms when you use the site. They can remove content they don't find appropriate.

    It's private property. Your rights to do what you want have always been limited on private property. If you want to have free speech online, get your own damn website or find a site that's willing to tolerate whatever you have to say.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      get your own damn website

      And have GoDaddy randomly take down your site (RTFA)? Oh, you don't have to use GoDaddy, but you're still reliant on someone's server. I suppose, if you have access to a high-speed connection that allows you to host a server, and can afford it, you could host it locally, but that is a huge number of people you just removed free speech online from.

      • if you have access to a high-speed connection that allows you to host a server, and can afford it, you could host it locally, but that is a huge number of people you just removed free speech online from.

        That's just one more reason the telecommunications oligopoly in this country is such a terrible system. Our internet connections exist subject to the whims of a few gargantuan corporations.

        This is a bad thing.

    • Re:Um.... duh? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @05:00PM (#24106897) Homepage
      But the lines (tubes) that the content is travelling across is privately owned. If ISPs don't want certain kinds of content travelling over their private networks, are they, by the same logic, allowed to block it? I'm a net neutrality supporter, but I'm kind of playing devil's advocate here. Why would a service provider like flickr for instance, be within their rights to remove sites they didn't like, and the ISP not be within their rights by blocking access to the same site over their network?
      • Re:Um.... duh? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @06:00PM (#24107807) Homepage Journal

        Why would a service provider like flickr for instance, be within their rights to remove sites they didn't like, and the ISP not be within their rights by blocking access to the same site over their network?

        Common carrier status.

        I don't know if it ACTUALLY is considered to apply to ISPs, but my understanding is that in exchange for not being legally responsible for facilitating illegal communications, the phone company is not allowed to determine what kind of communications you are allowed to make over their network. It's perfectly legal for them to stop an illegal call, but illegal for them to snoop on you and find out if you're making one.

        The same logic should (if it does not already) apply to ISPs. They are just there to shovel your packets. If they want control over some of my packets, they must take responsibility for all of my packets, because if they are messing with them then anything they aren't blocking is by [one possible :)] definition approved.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jc42 ( 318812 )

          Common carrier status.

          It can be instructive to look into the history of that concept. Google for "common carrier" and "history", and buried in the zillions of hits is a lot of history.

          An interesting part is the origin of the concept. Centuries ago, before electronics, messages were generally carried by messengers or couriers, typically a man on horseback. There were some serious problems with the system. Imagine a case in which prince A wants to send a message to prince B about an action (financial, leg

        • I thought that this was actually a myth and U.S. ISP don't have a common carrier status.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by drinkypoo ( 153816 )
            Well, that's pretty much my understanding too. So let's hold them responsible for everything that happens over their network until they behave like common carriers! That'll rein in their bid for glory pretty quick. Why should a telco be treated differently than an ISP? (Especially when often they are the same company)
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by dodobh ( 65811 )

          ISPs are not common carriers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Conception ( 212279 )

      I don't know. It's been recently ruled that shopping centers are considered public spaces as people have an expectation of them being public spaces even though they are privately owned. I could see, both fortunately and unfortunately, something like myspace being ruled as a public space just due from the public perception of it being reasonably public.

    • However, using said power to (effectively) end-run the Constitution is just covering up tyranny. Using libertarianism to defend it only makes it more obvious.

      There comes a point where The Unquestionable Market fails. When a private entity is able to exert influence by means nearly identical to censorship, the balance has been lost. That is, you've given too much power to entities that censor and use "private entity" as a shield.

  • What the... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by edmac3 ( 604659 )
    These spaces aren't public-they're paid for with private money by private companies (or their shareholders). Why is there a feeling of wrong doing here? They can do whatever they want with their own servers and websites.
    • It's the same ignorance that makes people think it's perfectly fine and harmless to steal bandwidth by using img tags to link images from other sites, just a different flavour. I see people scream and whine about DeviantArt being run by 'facists' [sic] because they're too fucking lazy to check the AUPs, as one of many frustrating examples.

      Of course, if the site doesn't have an AUP that covers a bit of material that's been uploaded and later removed... then there's a definite problem.

  • Click Elsewhere (Score:5, Informative)

    by negRo_slim ( 636783 ) <mils_orgen@hotmail.com> on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @04:49PM (#24106697) Homepage
    It's just like any convenience store, it's a public space but private property. If you say something off color or for whatever reason whomever is in charge deems you an undesirable you can be forced to leave... I don't really see much of a difference here other then a website might have a ToS for you to peruse while in a store you have to rely on *gasp* common sense and social skills.

    If this really is such a problem stop devoting so much time and effort onto areas controlled and governed by private entities. Seek out new places where rules are consistent and turning a profit takes a back seat to a good user experience or quality service provided... Just my .02...
  • You are parking your property on private property. You are subject to the reasonable (very broadly interpreted) rules of the private property owner. YOU are CHOOSING to put your content on THEIR site.
  • Unless you're using a government service or paying for a specific service under contract the internet is not a public place. It's a collection of private places that allow you to post data publicly. Civil rights do not apply.

    All the data you upload to a server belongs to whomever owns that server and will be treated as their usage policy dictates.

  • Seriously -- is there anyone other than this AP reporter who really believes their constitutional right to free speech applies to other people's private web sites? Are there people really this ignorant that don't understand the whole point of the Constitution is to limit *government* power to oppress speech?

    Given this AP's reporter's surprise, I would assume that the AP's [ap.org] web site will allow me to post anything I want there, otherwise they're suppressing my "free speech rights".

    • by computational super ( 740265 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @05:03PM (#24106951)

      Here's the chicken-and-the-egg problem I see with this... it's up to Flickr to decide what gets posted on their site, right? They own it, after all. Or, that is... they paid a registrar the $10/yr or whatever that it costs to register a domain name and a hosting company to host it - or they hosted it themselves, but paid an ISP to provide the upstream bandwidth... so, they "own" it right? Or... does the registrar own it? Or does the hosting company own it? Or does the upstream ISP own it? If the Dutch photographer in the story wanted to host his own "children smoking cigarettes" website and registered with "GoDaddy", GoDaddy might very well shut it down (like they did in another case in TFA). Or the upstream ISP might shut it down (like they did in another case in TFA). Who ultimately gets to decide what's inappropriate content, and who ultimately gets to decide what's actually OK?

      I actually agree with letting Flickr remove whatever they want to remove (although in this case it was way stupid), but this starts to get a bit more complex than it seems when you start thinking about it.

    • Are there people really this ignorant that don't understand the whole point of the Constitution is to limit *government* power to oppress speech?

      The whole point of the first amendment is to limit the federal government's power to censor speech. The whole point of the fourteen amendment is to limit the individual state's powers to that of the federal government's. I fail to understand why there shouldn't be rights that protect free speech in companies. Whistleblower laws due this to some degree. We reco

  • by mikelieman ( 35628 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @04:54PM (#24106815) Homepage

    A corporation, by definition is an Artificial Legal Entity ( ALE ). Which means, that is is CREATED not by Natural Persons, but by another Artificial Entity. ( The State )

    Given our State Constitutions, it's CREATED by The People of the Great State of whatever, by way of the Secretary of State's office.

    Now, turning to examine the Declaration of Independence, we see that RIGHTS COME FROM OUR CREATOR.

    So, we have a situation where the "rights" of an Artificial Legal Entity are *EXACTLY* what the Secretary of State's office ( their Creator in the context of "rights" w.r.t the Declaration of Independence ) gives them.

    Now, with all this in mind, answer the following question:

    Since the Secretary of State's office is limited by constitutional prohibitions, can that office confer on its own creation *more* authority than it, itself has?

    I offer that , SoS > ALE , and therefore ALE's are automatically bound by the constitutional prohibitions of its creator.

    I see NOTHING in the Declaration of Independence OR any Constitution saying otherwise. Anyone have citations to support the counter-argument?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Well, the Declaration is not legally relevent. That "rights from the creator" may be morally or technically true, but has no legal truth.

      I find your point of view interesting, but you should rephrase it would referencing the Declaration. More like "The government has no legal right to do X, can they create an independent organization to do X?". I don't recall the answer, but I believe there is caselaw about that.

    • The problem with your analysis, the way I see it (which might not line up with current law in any way, shape or form), is that it fails to recognize that corporations are fundamentally composed of people. Slashdot commentators like to reduce corporations to fancy names like Artificial Legal Entity, but those entities are created to provide some organization to the collective exercise of natural rights by groups of real people (shareholders, management, and employees - ok, mostly management, but managemen

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Aetuneo ( 1130295 )
      The only real response I can find to this is to quote Foucault's Pendulum at you:
      "Morons never do the wrong thing. They get their reasoning wrong. Like the fellow who says all dogs are pets and all dogs bark, and cats are pets, too, and therefor cats bark. Or that all Athenians are mortal, and all the citizens of Piraeus are mortal, so all the citizens of Piraeus are Athenians."
      "Which they are."
      "Yes, but only accidentally. Morons will occasionally say something that's right, but they say it for the wron
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mr_matticus ( 928346 )

      A corporation, by definition is an Artificial Legal Entity ( ALE ). Which means, that is is CREATED not by Natural Persons, but by another Artificial Entity. ( The State )

      Error in the first step.

      A corporation is not created by the state. It is created by private citizens, who then register it with the state, where they pay taxes in order for the unmolested privilege of selling to residents of the state and providing a form of accreditation for third parties to verify against.

      At no point does the corporation become an arm of the state or an agent of the government.

      So, we have a situation where the "rights" of an Artificial Legal Entity are *EXACTLY* what the Secretary of State's office

      No. The "rights" of a corporation are those granted to them by the state's business and professions code, its l

  • ...some businesses have a dress code. Shocking!
  • by jschottm ( 317343 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @05:06PM (#24106993)

    Free speech (within the United States) applies to government muzzles - it has never and should never apply to private areas that the public uses. Just as I have no guaranteed right to free speech in a mall, movie theatre, or someone's front yard, the same applies to online spaces. I'm a little puzzled why people would have legitimate reason to think that online freedom of speech would be guaranteed. They did read the ToS when they created the accounts, yes? (Yes, I know the answer to that question.)

    Don't like the ToS? Then don't use the service. Ask the provider to fix the problems. But don't complain about "rights" being non-existent. The services being used are created and paid for by _someone_ - that someone gets to set the rules.

    Part of what is great about an open web is that there is a very low bar to entry for people (at least those in first world countries, which the article primarily deals with) to create their own services and sites (limited only be laws). Most of the cases being cited are either free or very low fee sites. It's unrealistic to expect a lot of handholding and hands-on care if you're paying $10/year for photo hosting. If your artistic statement of kids smoking is so important that you have to make it, pony up for a web site someplace. If it's not important enough to the artist to pay $20-100/year for a cheap account why would a corporation be expected to pay the same amount in support costs on the user's behalf?

  • Yahoo is not the government. It has no obligation to respect your right to free speech. In fact, you give Yahoo the right to delete anything you upload if it contravenes Yahoo's difficult-to-discern standards. When Yahoo deletes publicly displayed content (or when TalkLeft does, for that matter) it is not playing a "governmental role," as this writer asserts. Substitute "managerial role," and the writer has a point.

    None of the AP writer's observations are shocking. It has long been understood that freedom o

  • Any private company or citizen can censor all they want. The protections of free speech are toward the government NOT against free citizens or the companies they own.

    If Yahoo decides it does not want child nudity on flicker, they can decide such. It is their site, their business. To declare otherwise is "forced speech" which is just as bad as "censorship".

    The government should not be able to censor your freedom of speech. But a private entity is not required to allow you the same leeway. If your employer

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by iter8 ( 742854 )
      Any private company or citizen can censor all they want. The protections of free speech are toward the government NOT against free citizens or the companies they own.

      Not quite. Suppose Flickr decided to remove any pictures of black people or catholics, do you think they would be exercising legitimate property rights? Do you think that they could get away with it? Property rights are not absolute. They can be trumped by other rights - free speech can be one of those rights. This case isn't so clear cut a
  • On the one side, yes, we do lose our First Amendment right to freedom of speech by posting in online forums, since it's not really "public" (even if it may have the illusion of being public). On the other side of the coin, I'm actually glad somebody is able to step in and moderate this stuff, or else all of our forums would be overrun with viagra/peni$ enlargement spam, pirated material, child porn, and god only knows whatever else. Just look what happened to Usenet,... they tried to keep that as open and f
  • There is a certain concept [wikipedia.org] postulated by Wittgenstein that I think would resolve this confusion. "Public" as is meant with respect to the first amendment is used in a very different game from "public" as is meant by MySpace or Flickr being public (that is, open to general consumption). I've always found it rather silly when people get incensed by their first amendment rights being "violated" in privately owned fora. Unless I'm really missing something this is just such a non-issue.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2008 @05:26PM (#24107319)

    It's not even the always propagated anarchy. It's a collection of tiny little dictatorships.

    Basically, every server is owned by someone who can make his rules. I can create a server and dictate that you may discuss anything but pink socks and frilly dresses, because they scare me (and clowns! Nobody discusses clowns on my page!). I needn't publish the info that discussing such things is a nono. I just delete your submission and you can't do jack about it. Why? Because it's my server. My house, my rules, you don't like it, get lost! You wanna talk about those scary clowns that will eat me in the night, do it on your own server!

    That's, on the other hand, the benefit of the net over the real world. YOU make the rules on YOUR turf. You don't like my position, you can very easily move away, something you might not so easily be able to do in reality. If your country bans the discussion of certain topics (it does happen, people. And I'm not talking about Iran or North Korea), you have no choice but to accept it. Moving away isn't always so easy. But it's easy on the net.

    This is also the reason why servers with tight and outright silly restrictions (like my "no socks, no dress, no clown" example above) don't survive for long: People avoid them. So yes, I do consider such information important, to make people aware of such practices and give them an incentive to move their "business" elsewhere, where the ideals of free speech and expression are held in a higher esteem.

    But complaining about it, or even outright demanding that something has to be allowed on a sever, is silly. The server is owned by someone, and he has the right to impose his own rules. You don't like it, move away, choose another server or, if free speech is offered nowhere, create your own.

  • I can't believe this isn't obvious on /.

    Free speech has never meant freedom to use someone else's podium. It's not free beer, to make an analogy that should find a natural home here.

    The free press guaranteed by the First Amendment was never without cost -- and certainly never included the obligation to print something contrary to what the publisher wanted. We're all free -- at liberty -- to publish what we want to say on the web. We're all free to charge what the market will bear for that content.
  • Flickr Dichtomies (Score:2, Insightful)

    by WwWonka ( 545303 )
    I have to say Flickr is by far one the most disappointing experiences I have had online.

    I am a professional photographer who uses Flickr as a means to promote my craft. I have even paid for a "pro" account to ensure consistency. Well, Flickr not only has taken censorship into their own hands, but have ZERO support for asking why and when and how to correct the situation. I have an account where I moderate my own material and have done it very well. BUT somewhere along the lines something happened and Fl
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I posted a picture of a penis monster saying 'Hi I'm Muhammad' with a caption that said 'I'm pretty sure this is what Muhammad probably looked like' on my flickr account and it hasn't been taken down. I'm not that familiar with Flickr but I was 100% sure that pic would have been taken down. I guess the lesson here is, in Flickr's eyes a photo of a child with a cigarette is more objectionable than openly insulting somebody's religion. http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2143/2214325041_4e6ed4516b_o.jpg [flickr.com]
  • On the one hand, if you phrase this as "Flickr can determine what runs on Flickr's Web site's", yeah, it's not shocking. But the truth is there is no online version of what in the real world would be thought of as public space. Which is fine, I guess, except that for the past 15 years we've been sold on the Internet as a place that allows for the free exchange of ideas and meeting of minds across cultures and so on and so on. Plus the R&D behind it and much of the initial infrastructure was built wit

  • The obvious mistake (Score:3, Informative)

    by DaveV1.0 ( 203135 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @07:41AM (#24115227) Journal

    the case highlights the consequence of having online commons controlled by private corporations

    There is no such thing as "online commons" nor is there such a thing as "public online space" because all the servers that make up the internet are owned and controlled by someone or some organization.

    The only way there would be such things is if there were publicly available, public owned servers, and even then, said servers would be controlled by the government and would be subject to the governments rules on internet use.

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