Ambiguity of the Term

Sometimes people refer to FreeSpeech in an explanation, or as an illustration of a point they want to make. One such example is the ambiguity of the term "free" in FreeSoftware -- people say "Think Free Speech, no Free Beer!" -- But what does that mean?

The popularity of the term Free Speech is something the Internet community inherits from its American roots. The US First Amendment says:

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.

In many other countries of the world, however (OpenSociety or not), Free Speech does not have such a prominent place. There is censorship to ban criticism of the government, ban pornography, ban fascist propaganda, libel, etc. To people living in such a country, the term Free Speech might not carry the exact same connotation as to a liberal US citizen.

But even within the US, things are not as clear-cut. When the US intervened in Afghanistan in 2002, for example, a lot of people criticised the approach taken by the Bush administration. Following some protest marches and discussions, a right-wing organization published a list of "non-patriotic" public figures. When challenged, they said that the right to Free Speech does not include a protection from criticism. To some, this sort of list-making is very troubling -- it could be read as a call to hate crimes, or at least intimidation. Others would claim that they were public figures to begin with, and they made public statements, so they should expect public criticism. The questions is not easy to answer, and therefore what is and is not referred to by the term Free Speech remains open to discussion.

Benefits of Free Speech

The founding fathers of the United States thought free speech to be so important because this is what allows citizens to criticise the government. The criticism of government leads us to the role of the press as the fourth power in a state.

See Wikipedia:Three_powers_of_the_State, Wikipedia:Freedom_of_the_press.

In Terms of Communities

What does this mean in terms of communities? The important distinction to make is whether we are talking about a public or a private community. The boundary is not clear cut as private communities grow larger and may develop into a public community without explicitly saying so. Within a private community such as an informal group of people, an association, or a club, there generally is no freedom of speech. Your freedom of speech applies to society at large, not to arbitrary sub-groups of society.

Also, your freedom of speech is there for protection from governments, police forces, god kings, and other forms of HardSecurity. Note the US constitution starts: Congress shall make no law.... Because of the benefits of free speech, consider the benefits of allowing BannedUsers to edit a single page, for example.

EditNearLinks: OpenSociety FreeSoftware HardSecurity


The same page elsewhere: