Saying what you want on the Internet
By Chippla Vandu
Conventional wisdom dictates that there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. People simply should not air out their opinions the way they feel like, without considering what the effect could be on the receiving party. Even those that hide behind the mask of anonymity, provided by the internet, need to be aware that they are not fully anonymous. Thus, a certain level of courtesy and decorum is required when we write, especially on issues where we may have strong views.
These days, it is not uncommon for a growing number of blogs to be strongly partisan or strongly ideologically-inclined. For instance, some blogs display messages such as "Impeach Bush" or "Blair is a Liar." Others take delight in bashing Islam, Christianity or the Jews, for the fun of it, as though this has become something fashionable. America bashers are not so difficult to find, though, these days, they seem to be diminishing.
The blogosphere may look like one huge uncontrollable maze, but the very same courtesy and respect expected of people at home or on the streets should also be extended to it. Defining acceptable writing could nonetheless be difficult. A few write ups on this website have been highly controversial, though their aims were not to make fun of or deliberately fault the actions or lifestyles of certain people.
Political correctness is another area that leaves one wondering on how to write. Quite often, this writer describes bad African rulers as "tyrants," military rulers (no matter how benign) as "dictators," argues for indigenous cultures to "modernize" and drop off their stone-age lifestyles, and calls those who govern societies "ruling class." Some may however find the use of these terms somewhat offensive.
And is it wrong to openly debate why black kids perform badly at Graduate Record Examinations in the United States; or the role of European culture in the development of South Africa, the most technologically advanced country on the African continent; or the potential dangers to European society of the liberalization of drug use; or the offences of the State of Israel against the Palestinian people? Where does one draw the line?
The bottom line, in the opinion of this writer, is this: absolute freedom of speech does not exist, and our individual liberties end where those of our neighbours begin. There is a difference between arguing a case and choosing to make fun of it.
A respectable website which runs an article titled "To Hell with Bush" may want to make the same point as another which titles its write up "Why Bush is wrong." Of course, some anti-establishment bloggers take delight in the use of foul language as a means of attracting readers. Even worse are governments who choose to censor websites that step out of line.
Vandu is an academic and writer, based in Holland.