Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Free Speech Abuses On The Internet


Is unregulated free speech on the Internet really a good thing? Here’s a very thought-provoking New York Times article for anyone who participates in any form of social networking in the wild, wild west of digital era.  An excerpt appears below; for the full piece, please click the title for the link.


Anonymity and the Dark Side of the Internet


… a writing or utterance says what it says independently of who happens to say it; the information conveyed does not vary with the identification of the speaker.

There are at least two problems with this reasoning. First, it is not true that a text’s meaning is the same whether or not its source is known. Suppose I receive an anonymous note asserting that I have been betrayed by a friend. I will not know what to make of it — is it a cruel joke, a slander, a warning, a test? But if I manage to identify the note’s author — it’s a friend or an enemy or a known gossip — I will be able to reason about its meaning because I will know what kind of person composed it and what motives that person might have had.

In the same way, if I am the recipient of a campaign message supporting a candidate or a policy, my assessment of what I am reading or hearing will depend on my knowledge of the sender. Is he, she or it an industry representative, a lobbyist, the A.C.L.U., the Club for Growth? The identity of the speaker is part of the information and is therefore part — a large part — of the meaning. (“Consider the source” is not only commonplace advice; it is a theory of interpretation.)