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How to Fix the Internet: Don't Be Afraid to Poke the Tigers

The online world offers the promise of speech with minimal barriers and without borders. New technologies and widespread internet access have radically enhanced our ability to express ourselves; criticize those in power; gather and report the news; and make, adapt, and share creative works. Vulnerable communities have also found space to safely meet,  grow, and make themselves heard without being drowned out by the powerful. The ability to freely exchange ideas also benefits innovators, who can use all of their capabilities to build even better tools for their communities and the world.

In the U.S., the First Amendment grants individuals the right to speak without government interference. And globally, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protects the right to speak both online and offline. Everyone should be able to take advantage of this promise. And no government should have the power to decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t.

Government threats to online speakers are significant. Laws and policies have enabled censorship regimes, controlled access to information, increased government surveillance, and minimized user security and safety.

At the same time, online speakers’ reliance on private companies that facilitate their speech has grown considerably. Online services’ content moderation decisions have far-reaching impacts on speakers around the world. This includes social media platforms and online sites selectively enforcing their Terms of Service, Community Guidelines, and similar rules to censor dissenting voices and contentious ideas. That’s why these services must ground their moderation decisions in human rights and due process principles.

As the law and technology develops alongside our ever-evolving world, it’s important that these neither create nor reinforce obstacles to people’s ability to speak, organize, and advocate for change. Both the law and technology must enhance people’s ability to speak. That’s why EFF fights to protect free speech - because everyone has the right to share ideas and experiences safely, especially when we disagree.

Free Speech Highlights

Free Speech is Only as Strong as the Weakest Link

From Mubarak knocking a country offline by pressuring local ISPs to PayPal caving to political pressure to cut off funding to WikiLeaks, this year has brought us sobering examples of how online speech can be endangered. And it’s not only political speech that is threatened – in the United...

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Section 230

47 U.S.C. § 230The Internet allows people everywhere to connect, share ideas, and advocate for change without needing immense resources or technical expertise. Our unprecedented ability to communicate online—on blogs, social media platforms, and educational and cultural platforms like Wikipedia and the Internet Archive—is not an accident. Congress recognized that...

Free Speech Updates

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Dontdatehimgirl Suit Dismissed

A Pennsylvania judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the controversial website DontDateHimGirl.com, ruling that he did not have jurisdiction over the Florida-based site.
But the jurisdiction question was not the only problem with this suit. Dontdatehimgirl is a forum created for women to share information about men, and...

Is MySpace Safe for Kids?

Does the increased use of social networking sites by children lead to increased risk? Concern about online predators and pornography has led some politicians and law enforcement officials to call for unreasonable restrictions on public access to these sites.
But is the perception of increased risk accurate? How much...

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Key Internet Censorship Law Struck Down Again

The ACLU, EFF, and a coalition of plaintiffs achieved a victory for online free speech today when U.S. District Court Judge Lowell Reed ruled [PDF] today that a key Web censorship law violated the First Amendment and issued an order permanently blocking its enforcement.
Passed in 1998, the...

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