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Free Speech: Not Online

Paulie Mississippi

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First off, let me say this is not a protest. I had a thread pulled today, and I knew when I posted it that there was a good chance it would not survive. Ted I believe pulled it based on a post he made, and I applaud him. He serves as a mod on this site and it was his duty to do so, if he deemed it improper; that is what moderators do... watch out for the well-being of the site as well as solve any internal issues. Moderator in a sense equals mediator.

That said, the thread in question serves as a good example of a news article.

The thing is, we still have the right to say what we believe... what we don't... and never did have... is the right to an audience. People don't get that. They think you have to listen to their gripes or their complaints or their grandiose ideas... or their bs... and you don't.

But, as this article so eloquently points out... it is not even given to their decision all the time... many times it's the decision of a censor. Not that I am totally against certain censorship; I think that crying out "Fire" in a packed auditorium is wrong... unless, of course, there is a fire... but companies, groups, and mods have the ability to enforce their own set of rules... regulations... and censorship.

Ted, you know I respect you... we've shared dinner and time together and I relish that... and hope we will again one day... but you did your job and fell into the role of censor... the others opinions that were posted on that thread were those of either agreement or at least understanding... if not a shared sentiment, at least an agreement that I was "well spoken" in my phrasing of presenting my opinions and not just out there targeting groups or hate mongering. And I applaud you for standing up for what you perceive as the best interests of EC.COM... but you fell into the trap that is waiting for Mods to become the censors of free speech. It's easy enough to do... I've done it myself on other forums, in other times, when I've been able to control "the button" that deletes threads.

But understand, this idea of free speech... that we have the right to say what we believe... to point out errors in judgement or wrong doing by our leaders... can and will be stripped from us one little layer at at time... and of course, the internet; for all of it's wonders, is an easy place to censor. Had I sent out letters to the board... had I written a newsletter for mailout or published a magazine or newspaper, one would have to acquire every single copy... and hope no copies were made... online, all you have to do is press delete, and a whole train of thought can be derailed...

Like that one today... hell, maybe even this one tonight...

For your reading pleasure, the complete linked article is below:

Free Speech on the Web: Murky Rules, Personal Agendas

Rant all you want in a public park. A police officer generally won't eject you for your remarks alone, however unpopular or provocative.

Say it on the Internet, and you'll find that free speech and other constitutional rights are anything but guaranteed.

Companies in charge of seemingly public spaces online wipe out content that's controversial but otherwise legal. Service providers write their own rules for users worldwide and set foreign policy when they cooperate with regimes like China. They serve as prosecutor, judge and jury in handling disputes behind closed doors.

Unwritten Rules

The governmental role that companies play online is taking on greater importance as their services -- from online hangouts to virtual repositories of photos and video -- become more central to public discourse around the world. It's a fallout of the Internet's market-driven growth, but possible remedies, including government regulation, can be worse than the symptoms.

Dutch photographer Maarten Dors met the limits of free speech at Yahoo's photo-sharing service, Flickr, when he posted an image of an early-adolescent boy with disheveled hair and a ragged T-shirt, staring blankly with a lit cigarette in his mouth.

Without prior notice, Yahoo deleted the photo on grounds it violated an unwritten ban on depicting children smoking. Dors eventually convinced a Yahoo manager that -- far from promoting smoking -- the photo had value as a statement on poverty and street life in Romania. Yet another employee deleted it again a few months later.

"I never thought of it as a photo of a smoking kid," Dors said. "It was just of a kid in Romania and how his life is. You can never make a serious documentary if you always have to think about what Flickr will delete."

Protecting Brands

There may be legitimate reasons to take action, such as to stop spam, threats, copyright infringement and child pornography, but many cases aren't clear-cut, and balancing competing needs can get thorny.

"We often get caught in the middle between a rock and a hard place," said Christine Jones, general counsel with service provider GoDaddy.com. "We're obviously sensitive to the freedoms we have, particularly in this country, to speak our mind, (yet) we want to be good corporate citizens and make the Internet a better and safer place."

In Dors' case, the law is fully with Yahoo. Its terms of service, similar to those of other service providers, gives Yahoo "sole discretion to prescreen, refuse or remove any content." Service providers aren't required to police content, but they aren't prohibited from doing so.

While mindful of free speech and other rights, Yahoo and other companies say they must craft and enforce guidelines that go beyond legal requirements to protect their brands and foster safe, enjoyable communities -- ones where minors may be roaming.

Fessing Up

Guidelines help "engender a positive community experience," one to which users will want to return, said Anne Toth, Yahoo's vice president for policy.

Dors ultimately got his photo restored a second time, and Yahoo has apologized, acknowledging its community managers went too far.

Heather Champ, community director for Flickr, said the company crafts policies based on feedback from users and trains employees to weigh disputes fairly and consistently, though mistakes can happen.

"We're humans," she said. "We're pretty transparent when we make mistakes. We have a record of being good about stepping up and fessing up."

Caught in the Crossfire

However, that underscores another consequence of having online commons controlled by private corporations. Rules aren't always clear, enforcement is inconsistent, and users can find content removed or accounts terminated without a hearing. Appeals are solely at the service provider's discretion.

Users get caught in the crossfire as hundreds of individual service representatives apply their own interpretations of corporate policies, sometimes imposing personal agendas or misreading guidelines.

To wit: Verizon Wireless barred an abortion-rights group from obtaining a "short code" for conducting text-messaging campaigns, while LiveJournal suspended legitimate blogs on fiction and crime victims in a crackdown on pedophilia. Two lines criticizing President Bush disappeared from AT&T's Latest News about AT&T webcast of a Pearl Jam concert. All three decisions were reversed only after senior executives intervened amid complaints.

Inconsistencies and mysteries behind decisions lead to perceptions that content is being stricken merely for being unpopular.

"As we move more of our communications into social networks, how are we limiting ourselves if we can't see alternative points of view, if we can't see the things that offend us?" asked Fred Stutzman, a University of North Carolina researcher who tracks online communities.

Guaranteeing Open Access

First Amendment protections generally do not extend to private property in the physical world, allowing a shopping mall to legally kick out a customer wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a smoking child.

With online services becoming greater conduits than shopping malls for public communications, however, some advocacy groups believe the federal government needs to guarantee open access to speech. That, of course, could also invite meddling by the government, the way broadcasters now face indecency and other restrictions that are criticized as vague.

Others believe companies shouldn't police content at all, and if they do, they should at least make clearer the rules and the mechanisms for appeal.

"Vagueness does not inspire the confidence of people and leaves room for gaming the system by outside groups," said Lauren Weinstein, a veteran computer scientist and Internet activist. "When the rules are clear and the grievance procedures are clear, then people know what they are working with and they at least have a starting point in urging changes in those rules."

However, Marjorie Heins, director of the Free Expression Policy Project, questions whether the private sector is equipped to handle such matters at all. She said written rules mean little when service representatives applying them "tend to be tone-deaf. They don't see context."

At least when a court order or other governmental action is involved, "there's more of a guarantee of due process protections," said Robin Gross, executive director of the civil-liberties group IP Justice. With a private company, users' rights are limited to the service provider's contractual terms of services.

Drastic Measures

Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard professor who recently published a book on threats to the Internet's openness, said parties unhappy with sensitive materials online are increasingly aware they can simply pressure service providers and other intermediaries.

"Going after individuals can be difficult. They can be hard to find. They can be hard to sue," Zittrain said. "Intermediaries still have a calculus where if a particular Web site is causing a lot of trouble ... it may not be worth it to them."

Unable to stop purveyors of child pornography directly, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo recently persuaded three major access providers to disable online newsgroups that distribute such images. However, rather than cut off those specific newsgroups, all three decided to reduce administrative hassles by also disabling thousands of legitimate groups devoted to TV shows, the New York Mets and other topics.

Gordon Lyon, who runs a site that archives e-mail postings on security, found his domain name suddenly deactivated because one entry contained MySpace passwords obtained by hackers.

He said MySpace went directly to domain provider GoDaddy, which effectively shut down his entire site, rather than contact him to remove the one posting or replace passwords with asterisks. GoDaddy justified such drastic measures, saying that waiting to reach Lyon would have unnecessarily exposed MySpace passwords, including those to profiles of children.

Deleting Profiles

Meanwhile, in response to complaints it would not specify, Network Solutions decided to suspend a Web hosting account that Dutch filmmaker Geert Wilders was using to promote a movie that criticizes the Quran -- before the movie was even posted and without the company finding any actual violation of its rules.

Service providers say unhappy customers can always go elsewhere, but choice is often limited.

Many leading services, particularly online hangouts like Facebook and News Corp.'s MySpace or media-sharing sites such as Flickr and Google and YouTube have acquired a cachet that cannot be replicated. To evict a user from an online community would be like banishing that person to the outskirts of town.

Other sites "don't have the critical mass. No one would see it," said Scott Kerr, a member of the gay punk band Kids on TV, which found its profile mysteriously deleted from MySpace last year. "People know that MySpace is the biggest site that contains music."

MySpace denies engaging in any censorship and says profiles removed are generally in response to complaints of spam and other abuses. GoDaddy also defends its commitment to speech, saying account suspensions are a last resort.

Balancing Interests

Few service providers actively review content before it gets posted and usually take action only in response to complaints.

In that sense, Flickr, YouTube and other sites consider their reviews "checks and balances" against any community mob directed at unpopular speech -- YouTube has pointedly refused to delete many video clips tied to Muslim extremists, for instance, because they didn't specifically contain violence or hate speech.

Still, should these sites even make such rules? And how can they ensure the guidelines are consistently enforced?

YouTube has policies against showing people "getting hurt, attacked or humiliated," banning even clips OK for TV news shows, but how is YouTube to know whether a video clip shows real violence or actors portraying it? Either way, showing the video is legal and may provoke useful discussions on brutality.

"Balancing these interests raises very tough issues," YouTube acknowledged in a statement.

Varying Restrictions

Unwilling to play the role of arbiter, the group-messaging service Twitter has resisted pressure to tighten its rules.

"What counts as name-calling? What counts as making fun of someone in a way that's good-natured?" said Jason Goldman, Twitter's director of program management. "There are sites that do employ teams of people that do that investigation ... but we feel that's a job we wouldn't do well."

Other sites are trying to be more transparent in their decisions.

Online auctioneer eBay, for instance, has elaborated on its policies over the years, to the extent that sellers can drill down to where they can ship hatching eggs (U.S. addresses only) and what items related to natural disasters are permissible (they must have "substantial social, artistic or political value"). Hypothetical examples accompany each policy.

LiveJournal has recently eased restrictions on blogging. The new harassment clause, for instance, expressly lets members state negative feelings or opinions about another, and parodies of public figures are now permitted despite a ban on impersonation. Restrictions on nudity specifically exempt non-sexualized art and breast feeding.

The site took the unusual step of soliciting community feedback and setting up an advisory board with prominent Internet scholars such as Danah Boyd and Lawrence Lessig and two user representatives elected in May.

Community's Power Diminishes

The effort comes just a year after a crackdown on pedophilia backfired. LiveJournal suspended hundreds of blogs that dealt with child abuse and sexual violence, only to find many were actually fictional works or discussions meant to protect children. The company's chief executive issued a public apology.

Community backlash can restrain service providers, but as Internet companies continue to consolidate and Internet users spend more time using vendor-controlled platforms such as mobile devices or social networking sites, the community's power to demand free speech and other rights diminishes.

Weinstein, the veteran computer scientist, said that as people congregate at fewer places, "if you're knocked off one of those, in a lot of ways you don't exist."

© 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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I agree with you. I absolutely do respect Bernie, Ted, and everyone else here, but one of the reasons I'm not as "active" a member as I once was is the decision that we're not able to delete (and in some cases edit) our own posts, or that our posts can be edited and/or deleted by moderators.

If I don't like a certain poster, or their "style", I have the choice to NOT read their posts. As an adult, for me that is all the "moderating" necessary.

Except in extreme cases, like if someone was threatening or harassing an individual, I'm not much for websites that are moderated, I think it takes something away from the conversation (real adults do have differences of opinion, it's not a stepford society... yet). Just my opinion, stated with all due respect, and not intended to insult or aggrivate anyone.

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JuliaD, I love this site... the fact that I have posted here so often attests to that... and we do have a fifteen minute window to make changes, but it really is the most restrictive board I've ever been on. Of course it's never been an issue for me, but I've never been on any other site where I'm active at all that does not have the ability to go back and delete a post that I made... maybe one that was in the heat-of-the-moment... or one that I realized I made a huge error or mistake in...

Of course we are guests in this "house" that Bernie build for Eric... and I'm happy to be so... this article is just a convenient dovetail to what I experienced today... it is in no way an indication that I am unhappy... but I do find it a telling and chilling prophecy for what I fear is to come to online communities down the road...

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Paulie, I believe inFreedon of Speech andopinion, and whereas others have siad thier pirce, I was unfairly fhot at a few days ago regarding the next concert and/or ablum, therefore, I don't think I will be posting much more than a simple nod and wave from now on. Maybe a simple word or song title game.

You see, I am one who IS super sensitive, and although I don't know MJ, I am under more stress in Real Life than anyone can possibly imagine.

So, keep speaking up for freedom of speech, and don't be a jam tart like me.


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Of course we are guests in this "house" that Bernie build for Eric... and I'm happy to be so...

Actually I was going to reply in such a way as you stated. If I see something removed that I posted, I'm ok with it. I have to be. It's just a choice on the host's part and I try not to take it as censorship or an insult. It's their house. smile

However, you voiced your opinion on the subject, even after your post was pulled and you exercised your freedom of speech. I say BRAVO! At least you said what was on your mind no matter who agrees or doesn't agree.

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Paulie, I always enjoy reading your posts. I TOO have been a Raspberries Fan LONG before I found this board in 2004.But today things are so very different.In everyday work/life, we as a society

(at least I notice this)have to watch everything that we say.theres always someone waiting for somebody to 'slip up"...Im going through this at work right now. I kinda say we always seem to have to "Wipe our shoes, before we set foot in the house" whether theyre dirty or not, If you get what i mean....

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Folks, the stripping of free speech is always something that should concern everyone. It is not my intent to become a censor. However I don’t consider this particular situation to fit the censorship category.

EC.com is a community and as such has community standards. It was my opinion that the post in question, while not a violation as a standalone post, became questionable when taken as a whole.

What do I mean by standalone post? I simple link to the news article would have sufficed and members would have a choice as to read it or not. The ensuing revelation of a personal situation and the language contained therein was the reason I had heartburn and used the moderator card.

I hardly ever delete posts. I think Beatlebum500 was my last delete. If I see something going beyond opinion and becoming an argument then I will suggest we move on. If you want to debate with another poster that is what PM (Private Message) is for.

Let’s not forget that this is, first and foremost, a music forum for Eric Carmen which by default includes all things Raspberries. Am I suggesting we only discuss music? Of course not.

As to the deleted post, I felt there were many, many other message boards, blogs, etc., which would have been a more appropriate place to post this topic.

I don’t know if it’s the strain of the economy, the presidential race, the lack of concert news or something else but lately I sense a shift in the tone of posters. We have become more….angry… confrontational…or maybe frustrated is a better word. Anyone else feel the same way?

I am sure there will be many more posts on this topic but I will not be drawn into dialogue. I did what I felt was appropriate and still believe I made the correct call.

Play nice!

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The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees free speech (with a few exceptions) only in terms of proscibing government action that abridges this right. Yahoo, or similar mass communication entities, are not governmental or quasi-governmental bodies. We would not want to bestow such a status for a number of good reasons. Sure, we all get pissed off when we feel that we are being treated unfairly by a private forum. My point is that the murky, undefined "right" often cited as it might apply to private action or forums simply does not exist. Never has.

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As Ted said, we don't delete things without cause. It is extremely rare that posts get deleted or edited for content, and I can say unequivocally that it only happens when the Moderators get complaints from a number of people. When that happens, we look, we judge, we act.

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ME TOOO!!!!! I am happy, Paulie, that you can take the high road and accept the judgement of the moderators. I had a reply deleted or altered some time back and I don't remember what it was exactly - something like a personal question for eric and this was LONG before he was officially posting - but it is a specific forum. We've seen what happens when emotions flare and the on line darts start to fly. Bad, bad juju (feelings).

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I remember a situation about a year ago when Eric himself used a word in a satirical comment about what Sinatra may have replied to a waiter at a restaurant. It was funny as all get-out and Eric was just poking fun at what Sinatra might have said. However, the word was changed. So, these moderators do not play favorites, that's for sure.

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I am also pleased that you did take the high road on this issue - although I was not aware of the specific post. Ted did what he was supposed to do in this instance.

Ted... I too agree that the atmosphere has been a little tense and there is a sense of frustration for whatever reason(namely the one's you cited above). I know of a couple of members that post regularly(which I have heard from privately) and haven't because of the current mood of some other members in regard to their posts. I haven't posted very much myself due to a crazy work schedule and the fact that I feel that I'm out of my league in certain aspects here. Therefore, I try not to even try to voice an opinion.

This may or may not fit the point of this thread but I had to share my feelings on this topic.


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Ted... I love ya' man, but I disagree with one point you said...

"Let’s not forget that this is, first and foremost, a music forum for Eric Carmen which by default includes all things Raspberries. Am I suggesting we only discuss music? Of course not."

Bernie has set this forum up in sections. The label of this section? "EVERYTHING" with a subtitle "Talk About Everything Else"... Seems to me that we were invited to have these discussions not involving Eric (three distinct sections) or Raspberries (two more distinct sections)...

Also, Bernie noted that you guys (mods) respond to complaints from the board, however in the original post you remarked that you had not received any complaints, it just sat wrong with you... and you were waiting for (and perhaps subconsciously inviting?) people to complain.

The irony is, that little diatribe... which I felt wrapped nicely around the article about Obama taking Bernie Mac to task for being Bernie Mac at a fundraiser... was written and submitted with the understanding that it might be deleted... not hoping for it of course, if that was the case all those "f-bombs" would not have had the nice, PC little *'s inserted in them... but as I typed those words, the article quoted in this this tread flashed into my mind...

What this does is highlight several things... one is that for as much as all (most) of us love Eric and his music... we are totally different people... some are more willing to play games or talk sports... some want to be a prayer group... some want to find some way to get EC to answer a question (sometimes like it a quest for the Holy Grail!) Me? I like to think that I can just be myself... might want to talk a little smack now and a little baseball later, check out Bernie's new EC pics for Monday... and then who knows.

One thing I do know and recognize... this board, like all of us, is evolving... anybody who's been here very long at all knows that... there were "histories" before I got here... I've witnessed highs and lows since I've been here... births and deaths, marriages and divorces... good, bad, ugly, and some very questionable...

The beauty is I got to witness... though not attend... the "at long last" reunion of Raspberries... My hope is that the nation survives long enough for me to actually, in person, see them in a live show...

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Ted... I too agree that the atmosphere has been a little tense and there is a sense of frustration for whatever reason(namely the one's you cited above). I know of a couple of members that post regularly(which I have heard from privately) and haven't because of the current mood of some other members in regard to their posts.


Bravo!!! I couldn't have said it better...exactly the reason I distanced myself from the board for a brief period...But I've decided to just be me and come and go as I please and ignore those who are fast and eager to insult and offend...Now why don't we all just get drunk and...oops..I better not say it...might get my fanny smacked eek
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Heh...Ya gotta be tough to post at EC.com. I really don't understand people getting too worked up over the "tone" of a post. Remember ...this is an internet message board. Nothing more...although as Paulie said, some people may want to make it more, it still just a message board.Maybe people thinking it is bigger than that may lead some to be offended.

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It is sometimes hard to convey the actual "tone" of a message online so the words that are typed may not reflect what the person is actually trying to say or how it is said.

It's not what you say but how you say it.

Everyone will read or perceive the same line differently.

Who says everyone has to be tough? There are a number of people here that are as nice and respectful as they come and that will get you farther than being tough. I have met a number of them and they are the real deal. If that's not being "tough" then so be it.

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HT... it's not hard to convey the tone if the writer actually states that he is only speaking "tongue in cheek"... or that he is not upset...

What this situation has done, for me, is to open up an avenue to discuss this topic... The original topic was sort of a semi-humorous/semi-inflamitory essay on life observations I have made on a group of people who want to have an ethnicity to claim, but do not actually have it... and to what lengths they go to prove that they do...

In truth, this new thread... discussing the freedoms or lack thereof is far more interesting, though it sort of took the first one to get to the second one... laugh

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It is sometimes hard to convey the actual "tone" of a message online so the words that are typed may not reflect what the person is actually trying to say or how it is said.

It's not what you say but how you say it.

Everyone will read or perceive the same line differently.

EXACTLY ! When you read a post, all you’re reading are words. You don’t see facial expressions, you can’t see a smile, you can’t look into anyone’s eyes or hear a tone of voice. But nasty and crude remarks come off as nasty and crude remarks. Those words can’t be read any differently. They are what they are, and there is no reason for it.

No one, but no one should have to distance themselves because they fear they will be insulted, or should I say “bullied†by other board members. There are other ways of disagreeing on a topic without casting intimidation. R-E-S-P-E-C-T !!

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See...this is what I mean. I thought that everyone would know..knowing me, that I was being facetious when I said "You Gotta be tough",I mean it was preceded by a "heh". Of course some people will get their feathers ruffled at times, that's human nature. Once again...this is a message board.Being "tough" does not mean you can't be nice and respectful. It may mean offending people when you staunchly defend your opinion.Seems to me that it's all in the eyes of the beholder.

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Yes, some are more sensitive than others and will get their feathers ruffled more quickly. But there is no need to be offensive or rude to defend what you believe in. Everyone has different opinions. Opinions are neither right nor wrong……they’re feelings.

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