With great power there must also come great responsibility

In the same week that the story of Jessi Slaughter came to light, this post appeared on Engadget.

Free speech is a right that everyone should be entitled to, but when you say something, it’s all on you if it offends/upsets people. If you say something that a lot of people find offensive/upsetting then you can expect a lot of people to tell you about it and you have to except that they might do that in a way that you find offensive and upsetting.

So you are responsible for what you say, but what if someone provides you with a stage? With maybe the exception of reporting on something upsetting/offensive as a news item, the stage provider is effectively endorsing the content of your message. It is a reflection on them. Websites such as YouTube have a right to uphold their standards by refusing to post, or by removing videos containing content that they find objectionable. This is not censorship. You have the right to free speech, not to have people agree with you. The important point here is that the judgment call on what is acceptable lies with the stage provider, even if they use popular opinion to make their decision on where the threshold of acceptability lies.

In the case of Jessi Slaughter who is a minor (yes, I know that’s not her real name), her parents take on the responsibility for not protecting her from the full horror of the internet and the responsibility for not policing what she was saying*, she did instigate the entire episode after all.

In exactly the same way, Apple and Google have the right to refuse to allow apps containing content that they find objectionable in their respective app stores (the rejection of apps for the purpose of gaining/maintaining market control is an issue for another post). You want Nazi wallpaper on your smart phone, go do it, but don’t expect Apple/Google to help you.

I wrote this post because freedom of the internet is one of those subjects that people like to convince themselves is full of grey areas, when really it isn’t. The internet is as self policing as the spoken word, it’s just that people don’t like having to make the decision on what is black and what is white because they are making clear where their own threshold of acceptability is and other people might disagree.

*Despite what one of the talking heads on GMA said, rap music is not responsible for Jessi Slaughter’s actions.

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