Thursday, August 24, 2006

Reprehensible Free Speech on Myspace

A dubious petition is circulating around Myspace.com, an increasingly popular online community. Members of Myspace are up in arms about a new social group titled "F--- the Troops" and their goal is to get it banned. It goes without saying that "F--- the Troops" is reprehensible, misguided, and incredibly juvenile. The people trying to get it banned, however, are equally reprehensible because they are trying to violate the free speech of other individuals.

Noam Chomsky, a famed linguist and internationally recognized critic of U.S. foreign policy, once captured the substance of this petition's disregard for the right of free speech:

"If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise."

This quote illuminates the spirit of free speech. We must consider all speech, except for libelously untrue statements against private individuals, to be free. A lot of speech is undesirable, but who decides what is or is not acceptable? Who has the right to make these decisions? The Founding Fathers were equally concerned about these questions and that is why they enshrined free speech in the very first amendment of the Constitution.

But the Founding Fathers could not anticipate a disturbing new development in our society that makes the enemies of free speech on Myspace and elsewhere so dangerous. The First Amendment only guarantees protection from government interference on free speech, not from interference by private individuals. Take make matters worse, American courts consider corporations to be private individuals and this definition allows them to deny real citizens of their right to free speech.

Just as parents can bar their children from speaking curse words, a corporation like Myspace can censor its members. This problem is compounded by the fact that media ownership is being continuously consolidated into the hands of only a few corporations like News Corp, the multi-billion dollar empire that owns Myspace, FOX News, and a myriad of other news outlets.

Sure, the government can't take away your freedom of speech, but a few very powerful individuals controlling the media can.

This should not be construed as alarmist rhetoric. People have been fired from private corporations for their political opinions and the oppression does not stop with McCarthy. Just one example is a woman named Lynne Gobbell who was fired from her Alabama job in 2004 because she had a bumper sticker in support of John Kerry on her car. She attempted to sue for discrimination, but the courts upheld that corporations have the right to censor their employees in such a way.

Anyone who truly believes in free speech should be appalled.

Gobbell's firing may have been legal under U.S. law, but that doesn't make it right. Those who believe in free speech don't fire individuals for their political preferences, nor do they attempt to ban undesirable groups from internet service providers. Americans better grasp this concept soon or else the ever-growing influence of corporations could ensure that the First Amendment becomes as irrelevant as the "F-- the Troops" group was (before it started getting all of this attention).

Kevin R. Watkins is a political writer dedicated to advancing a left-wing perspective of international and domestic issues. Visit his weekly "Left Side" column at www.blogspot.kevinrwatkins.com

Distribution is greatly encouraged.

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