The Internet is Not a Free Speech Zone

It would seem that people, by and large, think that the internet is a free speech zone. We have blogs, these are our personal spaces and we can do whatever the hell we want.

In case you missed the memo, this is not the case.

Sure, you might not go to jail (actually, this increasingly becomes possible) but as bad, if not worse, is the possibility of destroying relationships because of your actions on the internet.

It’s not a free speech zone.

A few days ago, Loic Lemeur, the founder of Seesmic and someone who I have yet to meet in person, put out a very impassioned video calling Kosso (who is my friend and the developer of Phreadz) to task for disseminating private conversation.

I find this video very honest and transparent. Loic apologizes for direct comments that may have been inappropriate. From Kosso’s standpoint, he explains in a very coherent way why the whole thing is very awkward:

Now, if you’ve made it this far and watched the videos, you can understand that the politics of the web is a very delicate thing. It’s easy for people to get twisted up, but there’s always two sides to every conversation.

A few months ago, Loren Feldman started a series of parody videos mocking Shel Israel’s videos at Quite a number of people took offense to these videos and that particular conversation got downright nasty. What some people don’t understand is that the internet is not a free speech zone and, if Loren wanted to, he could destroy their lives, businesses, client relationships, etc.

Does that make Loren a bad guy? No, I hardly think so. I personally think that Loren is one of the nicest and most honest guys on the internet. But I know he could destroy me.

That in itself doesn’t keep me from stepping into that fray, but it’s a healthy respect valve.

So to everyone I have bitten harshly in this internet world, accept my apologies. There have been a lot of them, but to name a few: Tyme White, Mike Rundle, Kris Smith, John Havens, David Krug, Robert Scoble, Mike Arrington, Jason Calacanis and others.

Life’s too short.

10 Replies to “The Internet is Not a Free Speech Zone”

  1. This is really interesting, Aaron, from the owner of the PITA blog site.:) I’m just kidding. But….

    What are the lines? What makes them okay to cross? What is a cause worth going down in flames for? If it’s satire, is it okay? If it’s between “friends”, is it okay? If it takes private conversation public, is it okay? If you feel like not doing/saying something would compromise your ethics, is it okay, even if it takes a toll?

    I see all sorts of people advocating for badassery and douchebaggery on the internet as the last hope of truth, justice and reality… and just as many taking offense to how it all of the above compromise the foundation of the social stuff that’s going on, and the “conversation”.

    So does it come down to motive? To the echoes? To relationships?

    Watching people interact on Twitter makes me wonder about this stuff every single day, from the passive aggressive stuff directed at no one (but clearly directed at someone) to the link mobbing that happens when someone screws up publicly, to head-to-head arguments where the audience doesn’t have the whole story, to scrappers going after the “big guns” to try and “take them down a notch”.

    I just wonder if we’re creating a culture of aggression without consequences, or if people are just finally starting to figure out that stuff WILL come back to bite you in the ass if you don’t show respect/know when to stop/learn how to apologize/learn how to forgive.

  2. It’s funny. I’ve been a lot less ‘attack!’ lately too. Maybe because I finally realized I actually LIKE a lot of those names up there, even if they occasionally act like idiots. LOVABLE idiots.

    It’s about bringing a voice to a discussion and more times than not that voice will force a reaction. I’m just glad we all have a voice, and I disagree- the freedom is there, it just has a price.

  3. Aaron –

    This post has a lot of good issue “stuff” in it. But I’m not sure the biggest issue is whether the internet is free speech or not. In fact, I think in most cases the internet IS free speech.

    The bigger issue is the differences presented in communicating with and between people on the web. It’s different than passing someone on the street, or having an office conversation. The unique part about the situation above is that the internet brought these comments into the view of thousands. People need to recognize what their “free speech” means on the internet, how much it can effect things, and what a simple comment can turn into.

    I do agree that some things turn into legal issues such as slander etc. But things that used to be contained (and therefore the consequences were contained) can become incredibly widespread in a matter of minutes.

    So again, I don’t know that free speech or not free speech is the issue. My message would be “Hey, for the most part, while you’re here on the internet, we practice free speech, but why doesn’t everyone think for an extra second about comments/actions you’re adding to the community and what they COULD mean…. they may have wider-spread consequences than you intended or wanted them too…being respectful has a whole new meaning here.”

    Just my two cents,

  4. Seesmic provides a place for anyone to initiate or join a conversation online which does translate into freedom of speech on a global scale. The debates, mockery, and one oneupmanship that have long existed offline now happen online too. It will increasingly be more difficult to remain anonymous and inauthentic.

  5. I think that the Internet is a great thing, but sometimes people do not act prudently and take things that should be kept private and publish it publicly. Doing so can ruin relationships forever, and it is really too bad that some people just can’t use a little bit of common sense and keep private things private.

  6. This reminds me of an email a friend’s mother sent to her adult son telling him that his children were ugly. Her son forwarded that email to the entire family. I tell people over and over again, do not ever put anything on the Internet that you don’t want the entire world to see!

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