Free Speech, The 1st Amendment, and Blog Comments

While the internet is largely an openly available place, many people believe that while visiting a website or blog that allows comments – they have a (Constitutional) right to comment and speak their mind as they wish. To say whatever they want. 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 website may become irate when their comment is removed. As a blog owner, I know this to be true ;) . I have had my share of frustrations over the years while moderating some of the comments on our blog. And, there are the trolls… but that’s another story.

There is often a misunderstanding of the 1st Amendment in this regard.

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/moderator who deletes a comment, or a large company website deleting user comments that violate their policies… Your speech may be subject to censor in these private spaces. You actually have no explicit first amendment right to free speech in those places.

We have always held our community up to high standards. If a comment is posted that we find isn’t up to our community standards, we reserve our right to dismiss it.

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

Terms Of Use – Comment Policy & Community Standards

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.

The public square.

You may speak freely in the public square. However if you speak your mind (in a public space) and find a group of people shouting back at you, your rights are not being trampled — you’re just unpopular. Speech in the public square doesn’t mean that others are forced to listen.

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

Many turn to the internet because the tools are free and available. Twitter, Facebook, websites and blogs with comment sections, forums… they all offer simple 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.

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? Well, you can go out on the ‘public street’ and speak. Or maybe set up your own private space to speak. Start your own blog. Invite others 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.

For example, if you start your own Facebook page (or any todays social media spaces), you have to adhere to their Terms Of Service or Terms Of Use policies.

On the other hand, if you spend the money and time to host your own website / blog / social media space, you’re now the party with the terms — you can be as lenient or restrictive as you choose regarding your own community polices.

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

[ Read: Private Establishment versus The Public Square ]