Home
I wonder if the right to freedom of speech is becoming functionally obsolete. If you break it into its parts and examine it, there isn't much to it anymore.

For example, as I have blogged before, if you criticize your government in any public way, it's bad for your business because all of the people who hold opposing viewpoints will prefer to take their money and job offers elsewhere. In most cases the threat of economic loss controls individuals from piping up too often. Every now and then you get a Joe the Plumber who can make some money off of speaking up, but it's rare.

There are plenty of professional pundits who will happily take sides on TV, radio, blogs, in newspapers, and in books. But most consumers of such opinions are true believers of one side or the other. Freedom of speech is somewhat useless if all it does is reinforce your existing viewpoints. And if all the media serves to do is give you a steady stream of biased information, it's functionally useless.

Assuming my enlightened readers are intellectual mavericks who sample the opinions from all sides, the Internet is making freedom of speech obsolete for you. And by that I mean there is no point in having a right allowing something that can't be stopped. It would be like banning gravity. For the true seeker of knowledge, the Internet allows one to find all variety of opinions, ranging from wisdom to fabrication. The law couldn't stop it if it tried.

Some countries censor their media and try to censor their Internet. I have to assume censoring the Internet can't work in the long run. There will be too many workarounds and too many criminals to prosecute. Those countries will learn that it is easier to control the information at the source than to control the media. As long as there are pundits willing to get paid for spreading the government's agenda there will be enough public doubt to keep revolution from happening. America leads by example in that department. (I can say that without repercussion because it isn't party-specific.)

Freedom of speech goes beyond criticizing the government. It also includes censorship of art deemed obscene. But in time the Internet will make that a meaningless right. Everyone will have instant access to any art or images they want.

This leaves us with the right to burn a flag or the right for special interest groups to donate money for campaigns. In 500 years no one but historians will remember that those rights sprang from the by-then-obsolete notion of freedom of speech.
 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +5
  • Print
  • Share

Comments

Sort By:
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 18, 2009
Wow, talk about weird coincidences.

Scott, it seems you already had these thoughts 20 years ago. I've been reading the old Dilbert strips from the archive, and I stumbled upon this one today:

http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1992-01-12/

It has essentially the same points as your blog post, except the one about the Internet of course.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 17, 2009
You can't shout salmonella or anthrax in a hospital. You can't shout bomb in an airport or a school. Anyone can sue you based on what you say or write. IMO, we have no rights. We have only privileges and the privilege of speech will and can be taken away when push comes to shove. You just won't realize it.
 
 
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 17, 2009
This country gives people too much freedom: it's a bad thing: look at !$%*! and Rush L. and Ann Coulter and the recent T-party, etc.
There are limitations, however, such as: people cannot curse at work, cannot say anything they want to a boss or a teacher or a parent.

 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 17, 2009
OK. This is off topic on this post, but definitely relevant to Dilbert. New iPhone app that simulates work noises so you can sleep at your cube. http://www.inapatwork.com/
 
 
Apr 17, 2009
This reminds me of a anecdote from a book about the Soviet Union by Shipler:

Shipler noted to someone that there were no Christmas cards allowed there. The response was that all the printing presses were owned by the government, and that since they had separation of church & state in their constitution, therefore they couldn't produce Christmas cards.

Logical, but wrong.
 
 
Apr 17, 2009
While I understand the general point you are making, and I agree that thanks to the Internet free speech is rapidly becoming unstoppable by anyone, there is the basic reality that at any one moment, a government (or any collection of a group of people) could make a lot of trouble for a specific individual while trying to stop them from freely speaking. Laws guaranteeing the right to free speech help those few people who genuinely need it to defend themselves against the PHB types who do not realize they are fighting a lost war.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 17, 2009
"Do really think the people on this planet have another 500 years left here?"

Only if China quits smoking and Russia quits drinking.

Webster
 
 
Apr 17, 2009
Do really think the people on this planet have another 500 years left here?
 
 
Apr 17, 2009
"Freedom of speech" is strictly about forbidding government control of speech (or expression), not about there not being any consequences if you use your right foolishly. None of the Bill of Rights applies in any way to those who do not work for government. The Bill of Rights does not "give" rights; it prohibits government interference with those rights. Period.
 
 
Apr 17, 2009
The yearly worldwide press freedom ranking of countries published by Reporters Without Borders ranks the united states as the 39th most free country for free speech. 39th!!! Thats terrible!
 
 
Apr 17, 2009
Scott - Your thought experiments are usually a little better thought out than this.

I think you are trying to say that "Freedom of Speech" is a natural, inevitable, and irreversible consequence of a ubiquitous Internet, given a handful of centuries for it to get settled in. If I'm reading this right, you aren't arguing that freedom of speech will go away - you're arguing that it would be such an integral part of how we conduct our lives and business that there will be no need to spell it out.

However, there is no freedom of anonymous speech. There is no freedom of anonymous location. There is no constitutional blockade to prevent the government from requiring all servers on the Internet to be registered. The same goes with assigning internet addresses to users. The government could mandate that each router connected directly to the Internet stop traffic whose end-points are not "trusted hosts." Other countries who want to communicate with the U.S. would have to comply or have the traffic filtered at our border. Once servers and users are registered, require all message boards and blogs to keep accurate information about the person who posts the information.

I wouldn't be surprised to see such legislation proposed in an effort to stop spam and child !$%*! I'd truly be surprised to see such a bill passed into law, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it proposed. Start with this, and then remove an explicit declaration of "freedom of speech." No anonymous expression, no freedom of speech, and centuries to let it soak in. Scary.

Without a right to anonymity, which doesn't exist, there is an explicit need for "freedom of speech."

 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 17, 2009
huh? scuze me, was a bit distracted by the beautiful russian women ad at the top of the blog - very promising the idea of a happy marriage. be right back - thanks for the lead. ( I have some free speeching to do, but have to close my office door first)
 
 
Apr 17, 2009
It will never be obsolete. You have the right to say what you want, so long as it isn't slander. Even though it might not be good for business, you still have the choice to speak out, and that is what needs to stay protected.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 17, 2009
Don't kid yourselves people. The government could still censor top secret government documents (on torture say) but it is because of our Freedom of Speech that we can enact laws like the Freedom of Information Act and demand that the government make public those items that are reasonable to make public (ie not a threat to national security). I agree with whoever said that Freedom of Speech is more alive than ever.
 
 
Apr 17, 2009
sigh

the censored today is i d e n t i t i e s
 
 
Apr 17, 2009
There never has been 100% freedom of speech as we have laws against libel and slander.

The internet does provide anonymity, if you choose to go that route. If you spout off about your job, whether good or bad or even something that appears neutral, you can be fired. Hell, you can be fired for any activity you do on the internet. Unless you assume a secret identity on the internet (hell, unless you assume sixteen different !$%*!$%*!$ and different ip addresses) your freedom can be limited.

Some people are not interested in free expression, they are only interested in order. Im not talking about fascist or totalitarian leaders - Im talking about their followers - as long as food, plumbing, shelter and security are there, and nothing upsets the established order, these drones are happy.

 
 
Apr 17, 2009
Yes, I also believe that the "right to free speech" will be functionally obsolete someday.

This "right", as expressed in law, need only exist against the backdrop of a meaningful threat to limit or filter speech. The pervasive nature of the internet, particularly in concert with the growth in satellite signal reception, will eventually eliminate the ability to limit or filter the broadcasting of ideas in anything close to a meaningful way.

However, I think there a is danger in viewing this sort of development as utopian and liberating.

Pandora's communication box contains the best of what people have to say and do -- as well as the worst. Child !$%*!$%*!$% (likely a safe, non-controversial example in this respectable forum) is simply today's small example of what will ooze out of the box and twitter itself across the global landscape.

Webster

 
 
Apr 17, 2009
We have a freedom from being imprisoned for what we say. Freedom of speech, as defined by the first amendment, has never and was never intended to provide freedom from social consequences for our speech.
 
 
Apr 17, 2009
@Cube_Dweller,

Turns out that we might all have the same amount of free will as particles. And that doesn't necessarily mean what you'd think.

http://kk.org/ct2/2009/03/particles-have-free-will.php
 
 
Apr 17, 2009
Scott,

You're missing the whole point of internet free speech. You just create a dozen or so online personalities and blogs and then pander to each market segment willing to write you a check. Nobody will read blogs that they don't agree with, so you'll never get caught!
 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog