January 2011


On Freedom of Speech—especially anonymous speech.

One of my favorite things about the United States is its Constitution—in particular the first amendment to the Constitution, which reads,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I thought that, given recent events, it might be time to revisit the concept of freedom of speech—especially anonymous speech.

I’m in favor of it.

There are a lot of people who build themselves up in their mind to be a hell of a lot more important than they actually are. Their friends and family end up too afraid to tell them that they’re being jackasses, and so, having frightened off the very people who could knock sense into their heads, they end up making asses of themselves.

Sometimes it takes anonymous speech, or other third parties, to stand up and point out that the emperor has no clothes.

Sometimes anonymous commentators have left comments on my own blog that have taken me to task for idiotic things I have said or done. Which is fine. And I appreciate it when people point out flaws in my arguments. I take comments, whether on my blog or via email, seriously.

The fact is that, as owner and principal author of this website and blog, I don’t actually have to abide by the first amendment. I’m not Congress. I am free to disregard the first amendment.

But I haven’t.

I’ve made the decision that, with the exception of commercial speech/spam, every comment that is posted to my blog is published. Sometimes some are held in the queue until I get to the Internet, and I actually do review my spam filter to make sure that no legitimate comments are caught in the spam filter, but once that’s done, comments are published.

And rarely deleted.

I think I’ve deleted one published comment every two years I’ve had the blog up and running—and I’ve never unilaterally deleted a comment. Deletion of a comment is always done on behalf of the commenter and only when there is a compelling reason to do so. The last time I did so must have been two years ago when somebody was being harassed by a commercial organization for a comment he made. I deleted the comment only to save this person more headaches.

I fully respect the right of other bloggers to control and delete comments on their blogs as they see fit.

However I find hypocrisy repugnant.

If you push a particular viewpoint, more power to you, but there’s something disingenuous in the behavior of people who, on the one hand, use comment moderation in order to prevent attack comments from being posted, and then, on the other, justify comment moderation by claiming that by preventing attacking comments from being posted they are preventing silencing.

The fact is, if you delete comments that attack or are critical, you are, by definition, censoring and that is suppressing dissent.

Go ahead and delete attacking comments though: it’s your right.

Just don’t claim to be preventing silencing.

5 comments to On Freedom of Speech—especially anonymous speech.

  • I think I’ve only ever censored comments on my blog from one person, who is my “he who shall remain nameless”. In that case it wasn’t so much silencing as it was preventing me from having a full-on, all out argument in my blog with them, which I don’t think people really wanted to see.

    I have one or two comments on my blog I’ve wanted to delete, but I’ve not done so because, like you, I believe if I let that persons comment stand it will show them for the idiot they are.

  • Jul

    Boy do I disagree with your conclusion. Is a book publisher guilty of censorship because they don’t publish every single manuscript they receive? Is a newspaper guilty of censorship because they don’t publish every single asinine letter to the editor they get? One can love freedom of speech but still be selective about what gets published on one’s own website.

  • Does the First Ammendment protect an American’s right to lie?

  • koko

    I seriously had a fit of giggles when you said something about the emperor without clothes. What was the first thing that came to mind? You in bright yellow under-roos. Don’t ask me why THAT was what came to mind…because well, I have no clue. I’ve never claimed to be normal.

    The internet, regardless of being anonymous or not…makes people very bold in their choice of words. I’ve fallen into that category many of times. I take a different approach now that I’m older and more wise (??)…if you wouldn’t say it to their face then maybe you shouldn’t say it. Of course, you point out valid reasons to post anonymously. But I feel, for myself, it’s best to keep that rule.

  • Cynical Queer – naturally one can do whatever one wants with one’s own blog.

    Jul – No… but my point isn’t that censorship is bad or unethical, just that if you say out one side of your mouth that you’re opposed to silencing and then, out the other, announce that all comments are being moderated, then there is hypocrisy. If you’re going to censor comments because you don’t want people to disagree with you, then say so.

    The Honourable Husband – If the 1st amendment didn’t protect one’s right to lie, then Glen Beck and the entire Fox News team would be out of work.

    koko – I am always very direct. And I own all my comments — I consistently call myself “TQE | Adam” on all websites and there’s enough information here to trace everything back to me. I’ve said nothing online that I wouldn’t tell to somebody’s face.