i hope you get cancer™

Sunday, September 04, 2005

LiveJournal & Blogger: flying the flag for free speech?

Now more than ever™, freedom of speech is a right that, where it exists, should surely be guarded jealously. But it seems that blogs may become an uneven battleground, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor, where different commercial interests apply different standards. Blogger recently appended its toolbar with a little flag which it invites users to hit if they want to report "objectionable content". The idea is that individual users express their opinion of blogs and, if a large number of flags is raised about a particular blog, then Blogger may warn users about its content and de-list it from its promotional tags. So far, so what? you might ask. Except that there is no accountability involved in Blogger's apparently light-touch innovation; the company cites a book by New Yorker journalist James Surowiecki entitled The Wisdom of Crowds, as representing its rationale. Crowds are anything but wise, if you ask me. Over at LiveJournal, things are a little more transparent in process, if ineffective in outcome. A couple of weeks ago, my newsreader picked up on a little gem from AmericanJihad, one of several outlets for the wit and wisdom of one George M Weinert V. Although Gorgeous George clearly has plenty of issues he'd do better to explore with his therapist than with blog readers, his output would appear to represent the kind of hate speech up with which Blogger and, so they claim, LiveJournal, will not put. The first clause of LJ's Terms of Service section on Member Conduct states: "You agree to NOT use the Service to: Upload, post or otherwise transmit any content that is in LiveJournal.com's opinion to be unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, invasive to another's privacy (up to, but not excluding any address, email, phone number, or any other contact information with out the written consent of the owner of such information), hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable;" (my emphasis added) Here are AJ entries which, as far as I can see, demonstrate and promote hatred on grounds of religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or sometimes all three: Black Muslims - The Enemy Within Confronting the Global Jihad Mulsim Queers in Palestine Muslims are DUMB DUMB DUMB!! Angels in the Muslim Queer'ran AIDS Comes to the Arabs - Praise God! CAIR = Public Enemy Number One Muslims - The Party - Commies Live in Islam Black Muslim Pigs Muslims are Criminals Muslims Speading Disease Worldwide Queer Muslim Society Dumb Black Muslims Ask for Death Yet when I drew this to the attention of LJ, the "Abuse Team" rapidly came back with the following reply: Dear LiveJournal user, While that (sic) the content in question may be disturbing and in poor taste, it does not constitute a violation of the LiveJournal Terms of Service. The content posted is simply an opinion, and we allow the expression of a wide range of opinions on LiveJournal, as long as no explicit threats of physical harm are made against any particular racial, ethnic, or social minority. As such, we will be unable to assist you. Regards, LiveJournal Abuse Team I can see LJ's point, yet while one person's hate speech might be the next person's free speech, George's posts would seem to constitute a breach of its terms. The reason this is important is that freedom of speech and related issues seem to be assuming greater importance on blogs, and current anti-terror legislation promises to add greater urgency to such questions. Transparency, accountability, consistency will therefore be essential if judgements as to free speech are to be fair and credible. Thoughts welcome.