Free Speech Expressed in Blogs

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The average blog-induced drama in college centers around an individual posting too much of their feelings, opinions or facts about other people and having those words come back to haunt them. College represents a microcosm of problems that blogs cause in the real world today.
Blogging, the relatively new Internet phenomenon of users posting a virtual diary of their everyday experiences online, is beginning to pose the same questions that were formerly confined to traditional areas of free speech.
For the first time, these issues are reaching average households all over the world.
Many companies have no clear policies on what an employee can or cannot publish online. In several cases, employees have been fired without warning or recourse for the contents of their blogs.
A photo of Microsoft unloading Apple G5s appeared online with the caption, ‘Even Microsoft wants G5s.’
Michaell Hanscom, a Microsoft contractor, was fired from his job soon after for taking the photo and posting it in his blog.
Google hired and fired technical product manager Mark Jen in the span of a month for publishing too much of his experiences at Google.
While blogging has caused trouble for many people in the United States, many bloggers in countries where there are no laws protecting free speech have landed in jail.
Iran, for instance, arrested Sina Motallebi for dissent. A columnist for the Tehran newspaper, Motallebi posted an entry that expressed criticism of the government’s treatment of a popular political prisoner. During his time in jail, he was subjected to solitary confinement and torture.
Unlike Motallebi, who posted $60,000 in bail and fled to the Netherlands, Arash Sigarchi, also from Iran, was sentenced to jail for 14 years for using his blog to criticize the state for its arrests of other online journalists.
With at least two dozen bloggers jailed for their online content in Iran alone, it is clear that free speech on the Internet is becoming increasingly problematic.
The United States is not without fault in the repression of political dissent around the world. Amnesty International has identified technological giants like Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems, Microsoft and Nortel Networks as suppliers of hardware and software to China that censor Internet access in that country.
While officially denying ethical responsibility for creating the specialized tools used to aid censorship, it is clear that that these companies knew what endeavors their software would be used for.
When Google attempted to resist Chinese demands for a censored portal in 2002, the Chinese responded by disallowing all traffic to Google. Google capitulated two weeks later and created a search engine that served the Chinese agenda.
Despite American rhetoric supporting free speech, the almighty dollar continues to command the American forces of capitalism.
Corporations prefer to refer to this position as ‘neutral,’ to avoid any fallout over their sponsoring of censorship while continuing to develop technologies that allow countries to better suppress their peoples.
The laws protecting the Internet’s denizens have not kept pace with its rapid globalization. In the United States, which has an estimated 8 million bloggers, it is inevitable that the current trend of employers trampling on their employees’ rights will continue if changes are not made. Often, the line between what is and isn’t appropriate to post becomes blurred. What is needed is for companies to develop clear-cut policies about what bloggers can say and how to deal with them if it appears a line has been crossed.
Internationally, the free speech problems that have existed since the beginning of time continue to exist. With no clear solution, unless Bush’s plans for world domination can be considered as such, the United States should use its technological domination to assure that writers around the world have a safe and anonymous way to communicate instead of inventing methods of censorship.
Prior to the rise of the Internet, the right to publish oneself and write about one’s life was typically guaranteed by law in the United States. As the world enters the 21st century, it has become increasingly difficult to apply traditional rights of free speech not just to Americans, but to the global community.
With the advent of blogging, international laws should be erected to protect the basic right of free speech and standards should be reached regarding what can and cannot be made public in the workplace.

James Huang is a third-year information and computer science major. He can be reached at huangjl@uci.edu.

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