This week, I looked at the difference between government censorship and private limitations speech—which are really just property rights.
“F*ck you and your censorship.”
Such was the delightful Facebook message I got to answer two weeks ago. How did a nice girl like me end up on the receiving end of such an unpleasant note?
In addition to penning a weekly column for Rare, I have a handful of part-time writing, editing, and social media management gigs to keep me busy. Part of my responsibilities entail managing the Facebook page for Young Americans for Liberty (YAL)—a fantastic organization you should check out.
Most of the time that just means posting news articles, memes and reports about what YAL activists are doing on their college campuses, but about once a week I check the private messages.
Usually it’s nice stuff: “I want to join a YAL chapter.” “I love what you’re posting this week.” “Let’s be internet friends.”
Yet there’s always a handful of people who have a bone to pick (“You’re stupid” is a perennial favorite), and the sender of this censorship message was certainly one of them.
As you can imagine from his wording, this guy has a pretty filthy vocabulary. And when he used it to comment on the YAL Facebook page, our automatic profanity filter—which we keep on a low setting just to keep the comments section relatively civil—hid his comments.
Censorship! Or is it?
Here’s the thing: Technically, you could say having a profanity filter on your private Facebook page is censorship. It doesn’t limit what ideas commenters can express, though, yes, it does limit the language they can use.
But in the age of the NSA monitoring our most personal communications, is that the type of “censorship” we’re worried about?
When Congress is trying to pass bills like SOPA and CISPA, which would give the government massive internet censorship abilities, is “censorship” of rude language on a private Facebook page a big concern?
When we have people seriously suggesting that government should decide what the media gets to print, do private limitations on speech even count as censorship?
I don’t think so.
There’s an important difference between government censorship and private property rights. The NSA, SOPA, CISPA, and government controlling the press is censorship. Not letting people say whatever they want on your Facebook page, website, or land is private property rights.
The First Amendment protects us from the government censoring our speech; it has absolutely nothing to say about limiting speech on private property. Your house, your Facebook, your whatever—your rules.
The government forcing you to stop expressing your opinion is censorship. You deciding what you want people saying on your private property is not censorship.
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