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Public speech, private censorship

Published on 03 May 2013
Updated on 05 April 2024

‘Azerbaijanis better start watching their online language. Any unkind word thrown into cyber space may soon result in a legal action if plans to censor publicly accessible virtual conversations go through.’ So reports Giorgi Lomsadze on eurasianet.org.

The new draft law is an attempt to make profanity on the web a crime and if passed in its current form, anyone caught using profanity on the web could be looking at a three-year prison sentence, a hefty fine or community service, according to the Baku-based Media Rights Institute.

In a quest for more information on free speech on the Internet, I came across an article claiming that the Food and Drug Administration in the USA is also in a censoring mode. Apparently supplement company AMARC Enterprises “liked” a Facebook customer testimonial about how their product helped ‘keep cancer at bay’ and the FDA says this means AMARC made a disease claim. The customer has said that using AMARC’s product had helped keep them cancer-free. This poses the question of whether companies can be held responsible for customer comments on social media pages? And if so, what affect with this have on the Internet? Will companies stop allowing comments? Will all comments need to be moderated? Will freedom of speech be curtailed?

Still interested, I continued my search and came across the Deciders, an elite group that includes representatives from  Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo. A report from New Republic explains how they met, how they work, and how they’re shaping our future by acting as the gatekeepers of free speech on the Net.

With some vague echo of the First Amendment to the US Constitution in my mind, I searched again and found that the First Amendment applies to US Congress – it can’t impinge upon freedom of expression but private companies can.

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