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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Y'all come

This is one of the most vigorous defenses of free speech you'll ever see:

"... we believe that you - the user - has the right to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, and that it is your responsibility to do so. When you know something is right, you should choose to do it. But as much as possible, we will not force you to do it. You choose what to post. You choose what to read. You choose what kind of subreddit to create and what kind of rules you will enforce. We will try not to interfere - not because we don’t care, but because we care that you make your choices between right and wrong. Virtuous behavior is only virtuous if it is not arrived at by compulsion. This is a central idea of the community we are trying to create."

That's Reddit CEO Yishan Wong's blog post about the naked-celebrties-leak scandal. Note that we're not talking about the First Amendment or censorship here, which would mean the government unconstitutionally suppressing speech. We're talking about the broader concept of free speech. When I decide not to publish something on the editorial page, that's not censorship, even though some readers insist on calling it that. It is gatekeeping and editing and selecting.

I appreciate Wong's sentiment that "virtuous behavior is only virtuous if it is not arrived at by compulsion" -- and I've said similar things about government coeercion. In the private sector, though, we all have standards we try to adhere to. Everybody's standards may be different, but we all have them.And if you read further in his post, you find that even Reddit will not distrube certain things -- items that are likely to cause imminent danger (suicide instructions for self-har, for example) or items that are "morally objectionable." Boy, there's a vague standard that, on any given day, could justify excluding almost anything.

(Via Ann Althouse, a constitutional lawyer who has long written about free-speech principles outside the context of government restrictions.)

It is, obviously, denying a voice that wants to be heard, and I think the denial has to be justified. When I started out, it was harder to justify. The editorial page, especially in the small towns of the papers I worked on, the editorial page was the about the only game in town. If I kept somebody's letter off the page, that person had no place else to go and was effectively silenced as a participant in the public conversation. Today, that same person has a wide array of choices, including starting a blog or just tweeting his brains out. So there is less pressure on me to accept things I don't want to publish. On the other hand, if the debates elsewhere are a lot more vigorous than the ones on my page, people will stop coming to my page. A fine line to walk, some days.