I&S 04: Class 6 Notes: Harmful Speech

I.  Why is more speech on the web good?

* Civic discourse (Political): Talking a lot about
issues, if we stay on the substance, helps re-invigorate us and keep us
interested in politics.  Speech fuels civic engagement, something
we have too little of right now.  The Net allows for asynchronous,
highly contextualized and linked-up conversations (it also allows for
fragments, for trees to fall in the forest — that’s another story).

* Creativity (Expressive): More speech, so long as
it’s not locked down by the over-reach of intellectual property
protections, allows for more things to be creative off of. 
Standing on the shoulders of giants is a good thing.

New ideas (Functional): Some speech prompts
us to rethink old presumptions in such a way that we can see new
opportunities — even ones that are purely “functional” rather than
“expressive” (a false distinction?).

* Exposure (Breadth): We might hear from more perspectives other than our own.  Our horizons might get broadened (but see
Cass Sunstein, The Daily Me).  The aggregation
of less-popular viewpoints is a good thing — you can find friends
online if you have these ideas.

* Venting (Emotional): It makes us feel better to
be able to say things rather than keeping everything pent up. 
(Does it matter to us whether or not someone is listening?).

Can we separate these things into “good for me” and “good for the polity,” or are those one and the same?

Is there an economic aspect to more speech?  Do economies that
talk more sell and buy more (and if so, is that desirable)?  Does
speech enable markets to function better?  An advantage of the web?

Charles Fried: Freedom of speech is the freedom of the
mind.  Speech in the people limits the (over-)reach of the
government.  So where are the limits?

Seth Finkelstein: “Do please make the point that prohibiting access to speech also means
prohibiting privacy/anonymity sites. This might be obvious in
retrospect, but it’s not something people think about enough.”

II. When does more speech turn harmful?

* Regional/cultural problems endemic in a global medium.

* Defamation (lies, generally)

* Exposure to things we don’t want (or want our children) to see

* Incitement to do bad things

* Urs Gasser: what about speech that is of bad “quality”?  See also his working paper on Information Quality.

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