Freedom of Speech for Web Publishers and Citizen Journalists

Stifling Free Speech on the Web

Some web publishers take free speech for granted. Here are a few examples in which exercising free speech has resulted in lawsuits, jail time and worse.

Many Americans take free speech rights for granted.

Individuals and even many business owners assume that the First Amendment gives them the right to say whatever they like without fear of repercussions or reprisals.

No doubt about it, the right to free speech is deeply embedded in the American value system. However, free speech does have legal limits, especially when it is applied to web publishing. And when you consider the state of web publishing in other parts of the world, the free speech implications of the content you post online can be downright scary.

As a web publisher, you need to have an awareness of the limits of free speech and its possible consequences. Here are a handful of examples of how stifling free speech on the web has had negative consequences for online publishers in the U.S. and around the world.

Elliott Madison (Pittsburgh)

In 2009, a man named Elliott Madison used Twitter to notify protesters about the movements of law enforcement during the G20 summit. It is unclear whether his actions violated any laws. However, in addition to having his house searched, Madison was arrested and later released on bail. Free speech watchers identify this as the first time a U.S. citizen was arrested for communicating with protesters online.

Jess Zimmerman (Butler University)

Jess Zimmerman, a junior at Butler University, created an anonymous blog in 2008 that was critical of the university and its administration. In addition to generating his own content, his site posted anonymous content from faculty and other students. In response, the university filed a libel and defamation suit against Butler and his online nom de plume, "Soodoo Nym".

Zeng Jinyan (Beijing)

Following the arrest of a Chinese AIDS and environmental activist, Zeng Jinyan took responsibility for updating his blog about his imprisonment and human rights violations in China. In return for her efforts, the Chinese government placed her under house arrest, where she has stayed since 2006.

Paul Chamber (United Kingdom)

In 2010, a frustrated British airline passenger named Paul Chamber jokingly tweeted that he would blow up the airport if his flight continued to be delayed. Under the Terrorism Act, he was arrested and detained for several hours. In addition to deleting his Twitter post, authorities confiscated his computer, iPhone, and laptop. He has also been banned from the airport for life and suspended from his job.

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