Free Speech, The 1st Amendment, And Blog Comments

December 27, 2014, by Ken Jorgustin

freedom-of-speech-on-the-internet

While the internet is largely an openly available place, many people believe that while they are visiting a website or blog that allows comments – they have a (Constitutional) right to comment and speak their mind as they wish – and if a comment is subsequently removed, that their 1st Amendment rights have been violated. The thing is, they’re wrong. And here’s why…


 
There are times when a visitor on a blog may become irate when their comment is removed. As a blog owner, I know this to be true 😉 . I have received my share of nasty emails and have had my share of frustrations while moderating some comments on our blog. This often stems from a misunderstanding of the 1st Amendment (for those of us who live in the United States).

Most internet sites are privately owned, and they have no obligation to allow you to speak freely in their space.

Whether it’s a blog owner deleting a comment they find offensive, or a large company website deleting user comments that violate their policies, your speech may be censored. You have no first amendment right to free speech in those places.

This includes our discussions on Modern Survival Blog. We have always held our community up to high standards, and if you post a comment that we find isn’t up to those standards, we reserve our right to dismiss it.

While we at ModernSurvivalBlog.com realize that a more strict comment policy environment will reduce the overall number of comments in a discussion, and while we know that many visitors are used to other sites where it’s basically a free-for-all, we have chosen to put in the extra hours to maintain what we believe to be a more constructive environment. It takes time, effort, and some frustration, but we feel it better serves the majority of those who visit us regularly.

Additionally, while some websites don’t allow comments at all, and unlike many other sites which require registration, we do not require User registration or even an email address prior to posting a comment. This opens us up tremendously to the difficulties of dealing with comment spam. But so far we’re managing…

That said, most people have no problems with our terms of use:

Our Terms Of Use

 

 
A civics lesson:

The First Amendment To The U.S. Constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This amendment (and all of the others) were added because the Constitution itself, according to its drafters (and the states, which had to ratify it), didn’t offer enough protections for the civil liberties from the powers of government. This is very important: freedom of speech, along with the other freedoms in the first amendment, are designed to protect the liberties of the populace against an oppressive government that would seek to squash those rights in its own self-interest.

Private entities and private spaces, however, are largely not required to protect your speech.

Conversely (as an example), if you speak your mind (in a public space) and find a group of people shouting back at you, your rights aren’t being trampled, you’re just unpopular — and all of you have the right to speak.

Most of us turn to the internet because the tools are free and available: Twitter, Facebook, blogs with comment sections, forums, they all offer one-click methods for us to speak our minds. However, when you leave a comment on a company’s page, tweet your grievances, or comment on a blog, you’re speaking in privately owned spaces. This means you should have no expectation that your speech is somehow protected beyond that service’s terms of use.

That said, if you follow our terms of use, you should have no problems here.

So where can you speak freely if you find your opinions are no longer welcome or if you’ve been banned from commenting on a blog? You can set up your own space to speak — as in start your own blog and invite people to come and participate, or start your own social media page. Again, because these are actually private spaces, your speech is only as protected as your service provider’s terms of service. If you start a free blog at WordPress (for example), you have to stay inside the lines of acceptable use. If you start a Facebook page (for example), you have to adhere to Facebook’s TOS.

On the other hand, if you shell out money to host your own blog and your own speech, you’re now the party with the terms — you can be as lenient or restrictive as you choose. You may not have the audience you wanted, but free speech protects your right to speak — it doesn’t force others to listen. You’re still subject to your hosting company’s TOS, and it’s still a semi-private space, but it’s the closest you can get to public on the internet, and most hosting companies don’t care what you say as long as it doesn’t get them into legal trouble.

I hope this helps your general understanding of posting comments on blog sites, including ours.

Thanks for visiting.