Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Free Speech Issue 

This is an incomplete but interesting report on a speech by Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House. Gingrich is raising the issue that Free Speech rules for the internet may have to change for terrorists. My guess is he is thinking of the "clear and present danger" doctrine that states no one has no right to advocate positions that pose immediate harm to citizens.

He has a point. The internet is a free-for-all and as such, there are those who exploit its freedom far beyond what is safe for society. Having written that, I'm concerned that regulation of any speech is a situation in which it is easy to go too far. There is a deep-seated desire to control what is being said about oneself and institutions. That is why advertising has been and will be the preferred method of communication from corporations and other institutions over public relations. It is also why so much of PR today has descended to mere publicity and message-pushing rather than give and take. Most marketers don't want to hear from citizens: They want citizens to hear them.

So, I'm nervous about Gingrich's thinking. Terrorists are dangerous, and they advocate destruction of our way of life. Their "anything-to-win" mentality, including blowing themselves up, is fundamentally opposed to societies where life has great value. Yet, somehow I think in our society, most people see through them. The question is whether they do elsewhere. There is plenty of evidence in Iraq that citizens don't there, for example.

Still, I'm nervous. However, the decentralized nature of the internet will make it difficult to control no matter who tries it. There is comfort in that.


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