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Freedom of Speech on the Internet

Once upon a time, the world comprised many communities with different opinions about free speech. Some allowed it, some prohibited it, and some operated in vast gray areas depending on what their particular dictionaries defined as freedom of speech. It only mattered what a county’s Constitution said about free speech and most of them had something that ended up being somewhere in the middle regarding free speech.

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It wasn’t until the early 1990s that it became apparent that there would be something that could take the world’s different ideas of free speech and make them all into one basic definition and one basic idea. That was the Internet. The Internet was this broad land where anyone could go and post just about anything. There wasn’t anything too much for the Internet – as things got more complex, sites just got bigger and more able to handle large amounts of information. Everything got bigger. At last count, there were millions of websites and domain names. Everyone wanted in on the action.

Especially the companies that decided to log on to the Internet as well. Remember all of them, vying for places to be and domain names, thinking they would hit it rich and make the big time just by being online? It just so happened that many businesses made it online, and a lot more that did not. When it came right down to it, selling things online was simply another way of selling, and in the selling world, some things work while others do not.

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However, the Internet ended up being about much more than selling. It was about having a place to speak and tell others what you thought. It easily becomes apparent that being online is like being on a huge sounding board that spreads worldwide. You could say anything, and there were no rules and regulations to censor you. Even on sites that had adult content, people were posting things, and people saw things. There was no way to control what went onto the Internet, and there’s still no way to ensure certain things stay off of it. It was a nightmare for a country that didn’t want its citizens to see anything.

Before nations could log onto the Internet, borders between countries meant so much more than they do now. Governments could set rules about the kinds of things allowed in their countries. They could search people as they left and came into their countries, taking away things that were either not supposed to leave their homeland or not supposed to be brought in. Governments could control publishing houses and tell them what they could and could not put into books. Music, writing, and the arts could all be censored due to the government, and all it would take to enforce the censorship would be government police raiding homes. It was straightforward for governments to edit what their citizens were allowed to see and what they were allowed to do.

Some countries contained citizens who were not allowed to know anything about the rest of the world. And, when important things happened in these countries, the rest of the world couldn’t know about it. It was easy for governments to shut down radio and television links and cut phone lines. Information could be trapped and kept in or out of a nation. For many years, you could see that the countries with leaders who did not want any information about their country to get out were virtually shut off from the rest of the world.

Then, the Internet came to be. And since then, borders have been eliminated, much to the anger of the leaders of countries who do not want their citizens to see things they should not see. It has all changed drastically in the last 20 years. The Internet has no country borders. There is no way to restrict certain sites to be only viewable within a country and no way to prevent citizens of a country from having access to areas within another country. If someone has an internet connection, they can view any site. There is no way for a government to allow citizens to consider one place over another unless they set up an internet of their own and don’t let their citizens connect to other internet sources. The thing about the Internet is that it is nearly impossible to do, no matter how hard someone tries to keep something off of it. There are even ways to get around sites that require passwords and other things to get on site. Hackers have been logging in to view items for many years, and this means that even if a company tries to make their sites into areas that have restricted or limited viewing, it will be to no avail.

This posed a difficult problem for governments that wanted to establish rules and regulations about what their citizens could and could not know. Because it was nearly impossible to outlaw technology like computers and cell phones, it became impossible to deny the Internet, much less restrict what citizens could find there and what they could learn about their country or the rest of the world. This was very frustrating and disappointing to countries that want their citizens to have technology but don’t want them to see things happening in the real world. Most of the concerns for governments in these countries lie in the fact that when a person logs on to the Internet, not only can they access information that their government might not want them to see, but they can also access information about their government and news about their own country, that other countries are reporting. This becomes very dangerous for countries because many governments try to keep things from their citizens, but these things are impossible for the rest of the world not to notice. When something happens in a particular country, it might not report it to its citizens, but the rest of the world will surely see it and talk about it. You will find that news, especially about major operations in different countries, is readily available online. This becomes the norm for people trying to look up information about the country they live in; they will find it out from news sources outside of their country.

In many instances, the Internet became the tool of the truth, and thus it remains. In 1990, during the Tiananmen Square rebellion, even though the government tried to shelter the rest of the world from what was happening, other Chinese communities worldwide could see and hear everything because of the Internet. The same thing happened during the Russian Coup in 1991. The information blackout that took out the television and radio stations was bypassed by an internet company called Relcom, which stayed online to keep Soviet citizens and citizens worldwide up to speed about what was going on. The first real well knows Internet Relay Chat occurred during the Kuwait invasion that same year – users logged on and got information up to the second about what was going on in Kuwait because internet connections and links were able to stay operational more than a week after the radio and televisions were cut out.

Because of situations like these, citizens can find out things about their own countries that they might not have ever had access to. This will allow someone to see something their government doesn’t want them to see. If you can look online and see what your government is doing through the eyes of another country, you will learn a lot.

Just look at the United States right now. If we listen to our news broadcasts, they tell the news as they tell what the government wants us to know. It isn’t always that they aren’t telling us the truth; it is just that they are putting a spin on it. People are talking about things, especially on conservative media channels, making it hard to believe that our country could do anything but good. Everything that a country like the United States does is good in people’s eyes in the newsroom. This is blatant propaganda because they only report what might look good to others and fail to say something that might make us look bad. And the style of reporting is the most frustrating of all. The United States has a habit of hiring nice-looking people to tell personal interest stories so that everyone will chuckle and think that our country is the best in the world. They don’t tell disturbing things and report news that might not be pretty to the other people watching the programs. If you want to find out information in the United States, the best thing you can do is go to a site that reports things that happen in the US but reports them from another perspective. Independent British media channels will tell you what is happening in the United States and give you an idea of what was said, what was not, and what happened. They don’t care how they look, and they don’t watch what truths they fail to tell.

That doesn’t mean governments feel good about their citizens knowing what is happening in the world. And it doesn’t tell that governments felt good about allowing access to all of their citizens to have access to information. Even in the United States, in 1996, the government attempted to quell freedom of speech on the Internet, bypassing the Communications Decency Act, which tried prohibiting adult material from being distributed on the web. Due to the blatant disregard for freedom of speech, as well as the absolute impossibility of being able to enforce such a law, it was quickly found to be unconstitutional. This doesn’t mean that things like this never happen. All of the time, there are reports of websites that get blocked out from certain places. It happens more than you’d think because the government has hackers and people who can go in and find ways to turn off sites. There are many ways that areas can become disabled, and if the government targets your site, you can expect that you might have quite a few problems staying online.

Interestingly, in that same year, many countries worldwide were trying to make their citizens immune to the freedoms of speech that were showing up all over the place. China mandated that anyone using the Internet had to register with the police. Germany banned access to adult newsgroups. Saudi Arabia restricted the Internet to only being used in hospitals and universities. Singapore passed restrictions that allowed anyone with a political or religious site to register with the government. In New Zealand, the courts declared that computer disks and hard drives were a form of publication, and their fore could be censored. However, this sounds like what happens in the US when a site is taken offline.

Or, it would be best to look at what happens in elementary schools and public libraries. Yes, there is a reason to limit a student’s access to adult information, but schools have altered their student’s access to many sites. They have gotten so afraid of students getting into trouble because of something they find online that they have made it hard for a child to do much of anything on the computers at school. This means the teachers can also not visit the sites they want to see at school. Now, I’m not saying that we should let our kids look at porn online while at school, but because of all of the limitations, there are plenty of good and decent sites that are becoming increasingly off-limits to kids in schools, which is bothersome.
However, even with rules and regulations in certain places, it quickly becomes apparent that a country or a government can repeatedly banish free speech from the Internet. They can try to limit what their citizens see, but in the end, one of these things could contain the power of the Internet or the power of free speech. Even where schools ban certain sites, those sites can’t be taken down permanently because of that. And even if government hackers attack certain areas, that doesn’t mean that those sites will be unavailable. It means that people sometimes have to work harder to get the rights supposed to be infallible.

Sometimes, we have to work a little harder to participate in what the Constitution says we should be able to attend. I think it’s funny because sometimes we have to fight for it to get our freedom of speech when all those battles are supposed to have already been won for us. That means sometimes we must work extra hard. But that’s okay. It’s worth it, in the end.

It becomes obvious that the Internet is an area where everyone has equal access. This is not counting the countries that don’t allow their citizens to have computers or the Internet. This means that if you can reach the Internet in any way, shape, or form, you will have access to the same information everyone else can. It is virtually impossible to stop these practices. If a person can get to a computer, there is no way to be banned from sites unless they are in a place that will filter the content of the areas they see. However, a government can’t figure out how to filter all of the computers that are in their country, which means that if a person is in a place where they have their computer with an internet connection and aren’t relying on a public place that might ban certain sites, they can get to any site that they would like to get to, and not be stopped along the way.

It’s mind-boggling. To think that a certain place exists only in waves and on computers, through the phone and cable lines. This place is so extensive that there is room for anyone’s ideas and time enough for anyone to speak their mind. However, this place cannot be touched or felt. It is a place that only exists in microchips, which I find amazing. You can visit it, and with a single click, you can be halfway around the world. What you might find on the Internet; there are no limits to what you can see and do. And if you cannot find a site with exactly what you are looking for, you can go ahead and make a site. Anyone can. It is easy. And it is even free. Hundreds of places will let you set up your site free of charge. And they will let you post your thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. It is amazing to me.

What is also amazing is that there is no way around it in the end. Some countries don’t have internet access for their citizens, or they have it, but it is extremely expensive or hard to come by. However, technology has advanced so far that, in the end, it also becomes impossible to prevent people from getting online, even in countries that don’t have internet servers. Many phone companies operate overseas, and these companies can allow you to dial into the Internet, even if you can’t access it from your cable lines. You can also get the Internet on mobile phones, making it available anywhere there is a mobile phone service. There is no way to protect your citizens from the Internet, and there should not be. In the end, even if you ban an internet company from coming in and setting up cable modems and DSL connections, your citizens could get cell phones and pay to connect their computers to the Internet. The Internet has become the real world because it is the one thing everyone can access.

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The world was not intended to be where people were only given the information their governments wanted them to hear. However, this has happened a great deal in the years leading up to the invention of the Internet, and take a look at what has happened. Because of the information block imposed by many governments around the world, people who aren’t educated have spread the AIDS virus to many more people than they would have had they had the education. Crime and conspiracies abound in all governments of the world but are even more so in the places where the government controls what its citizens can access.

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