Freedom of Speech via The Internet

This past week, we read some examples of jurisdiction cases and discussed when and how a court decides if it can hear an internet related case when the jurisdiction is not so clear. One of the cases was Dow Jones & Co. V. Gutnick. This was a case where the Wall Street Journal posted an article that an Australian man, named Joseph Gutnick, claimed was defamatory. Our professor briefly mentioned the United States values and defends freedom of speech a lot more that the rest of the world and I thought I would investigate that.

I found an All Things Considered interview where the host, Robert Siegel discussed this with an international law professor named Noah Feldman. They briefly discussed an anti-Muslim video, Innocence of Muslims, that caused violent protests in many Muslim countries and communities throughout the world.

Noah talked to a few Tunisians who were astonished that something like that would be protected in the United States. He added that the United States can largely disagree with and condemn controversial and offensive content like this, but it often creates a cultural disconnect, especially to targeted cultures, where the US is seen as complicit because of its unwillingness to take action against said content.

They also discuss the well known limitations on speech where courts have ruled that an individual cannot go in front of a crowd and incite immediate violence. The most interesting point that connects to what we discussed this past week was when they brought up Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. In 2010, he questioned how hyper-connectivity, globalization, and the internet could change free speech and suggested we reconsider our current limitations on free speech. Justice Breyer faced considerable backlash for this but he raised a solid point that becomes especially interesting in the context of Innocence of Muslims and other offensive content like it.

As previously mentioned, it is well known that speech can be shut down if it is evident it will cause immediate danger or harm to someone or a group of people. But what if that speech is in video form and uploaded to the internet? Innocence of Muslims was a video that was uploaded to YouTube and accessible to a global population. It caused a few pretty violent protests in Egypt and other Arab and Muslim nations. One could easily argue it was evident the video would stir up violence and that it should be shut down. Google even took it upon itself to block the video in the Egypt and Libya as a result of the violence. Should the creators of that video face punishment for the resulting violence in foreign countries? Could they be prosecuted in the United States? Should we reconsider our limits on free speech because of the global impact our free speech can have?

3 thoughts on “Freedom of Speech via The Internet”

  1. This is a great thought provoking post. Justice Breyer’s comments did indeed cause further discussion about how technology/internet creates clashes of values. What do you think about the questions left at the end here?

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