DESTINATIONS: Speaking freely on the Web

Friday, June 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Since journalists operate freely and unbound under protection of the First Amendment, maybe it's not fair-minded or even-handed to have them post their opinions about online freedom of speech.

But the argument rages on as more people log on to the Internet. Does posting recipes for pipe bombs or dangerous drugs qualify as free speech? Should pedophiles be allowed to discuss the objects of their affections openly so that the objects of their affections can read it? We rounded up sites that dedicate a lot of space to free speech issues. Feel free to jump right in the fray.

Electronic Frontier

If arguments for freedom of expression from eight countries isn't enough, your free speech desires just can't be sated. That said, keep in mind that the Electronic Frontier Foundation frequently lines up the American Civil Liberties Union for some serious First Amendment legal fights on behalf of the much-maligned "L word" (liberal). In other words, if a congressman even dreams of censoring some potty-mouthed bulletin board system, these people will marshal their legions to bury the potential offender in an avalanche of faxes, e-mail and letters faster than a telemarketer can speed-dial you at suppertime.

We don't agree with this site's claim that modern media is going around telling everyone that "all is well in the world." A quick look at any city's local news is enough to smack that idea around.

But we do like the hosts' invitation for people to spend time investigating what's true and fair and right - and not accepting the shortest version of a complex issue as the last word on the matter. The site's Investigative Toolkit offers tips on how to sift through obfuscated corporate-speak and lazy journalism in the quest for truth and activism.

Unfortunately, other sections of the page don't measure up with documented facts or examples.

Less generalization, more details, please.

The Censorship Pages

This site's host is looking for suggestions from readers who may know of a pro-censorship site on the Internet, so feel free to contribute (we couldn't find one, either). Beyond the hard-core supporters for no speech restrictions online, the host does link to the Green Ribbon Campaign for Responsibility in Free Speech, which wants people to accept responsibility for being downright loose cannons online. For those who don't want to talk about censorship in other media, make sure to hit the Internet Censorship button before diving into what's sure to boil into a really big fight.

American Civil Liberties Union

We know the ACLU is a four-letter word in many homes these days - a bold admission considering it comes from the equally hated liberal-minded media. But look: The ACLU is backing a lawsuit against Yahoo, which it contends gives users' personal information from a financial message board to companies that are seeking names of critics of their practices. What's so liberal about fighting to protect others' freedom to complain about their stockbrokers? The site's Free Speech section keeps a running tab of efforts online and off to curb this right.

Center for Democracy & Technology

The Free Speech section of this site is easy to work through. Online free speech basics start the discussion, which heads into pending legislation on the issues, an explanation of the Child Online Protection Act, a resource list and other postings of subtopics. In case you missed coverage of the debate, read a short history of Congress' first "and unsuccessful" attempt to censor the Internet through the Communications Decency Act or follow the act from its inception all the way to the Supreme Court decision ruling it unconstitutional. Or take a look at legislation from the 106th Congress as it tries to make Web-posted recipes for methamphetamine illegal. This is a well-kept, up-to-date Web page.


From the Topics pull-down menu, click on Cyber-Rights for a linked tour of online freedom of expression sites around the Internet. The links are indexed by country (even multinational perspectives) for a wide range of free speech issues and rights. The sampling could be larger for the United States. The sites listed do a good job of talking about electronic privacy, censorship and the prosecution of those who have crossed the line, claiming they do so under the guise of the First Amendment. This is a good starting point for polishing up on this issue, but it's also a great reference site for many other legal arguments.

Staff writer Tim Wyatt is a veteran researcher and Web wanderer. If you have a comment about or suggestion for Destinations, e-mail it to or write to Destinations, Personal Technology, The Dallas Morning News, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, Texas 75265.