Opinion

Free speech online comes with necessary evils

The Internet has grown up quite a bit since terms like the World Wide Web became common phrases. The dream child of countless technology wizards is responsible for speeding knowledge and information, breaking cultural barriers and connecting people together in more ways than ever before. Unfortunately, for all its good, the Internet also aids in… Read more »

The Internet has grown up quite a bit since terms like the World Wide Web became common phrases.
The dream child of countless technology wizards is responsible for speeding knowledge and information, breaking cultural barriers and connecting people together in more ways than ever before. Unfortunately, for all its good, the Internet also aids in the transfer of the most dangerous images and thoughts that have ever existed.
For anyone with access to an online search engine, some of the most sinister themes and ideas once hidden away in distant subcultures have now become available to mainstream America.
William Powell’s “Anarchist Cookbook,” a book detailing methods for phone hacking, bomb construction and other illegal activities, once little known, now has several Web sites devoted to it, with updates and online purchases available. As I write this, I have the Web site of a hate group, www.creator.org on my computer screen, with access to thousands more available.
Why doesn’t the government control these, the most hateful and dangerous ideas, from getting to the minds of our youth, those most unequipped to realize how dangerous these ideas are?
Of course the technology is there, and the U.S. government has the power and interest to implement it. In 1998 Congress passed The Sexual Predators Act, which requires Internet service providers to block sites with child porn, and the Bush administration has stepped up regulation of adult pornography as well.
Child pornography is perhaps the most insidious of crimes today, exploiting those least able to defend themselves.
Regulating it is understandable, but why hasn’t the government tried to control such dangerous ideas like information on how to build bombs? Many would argue that information and motives for violence is surely more of a threat than sex. Right now there could be a 12-year-old sitting alone in his basement learning how to make explosives out of a car battery. So why not stop it?
Because the “Anarchist Cookbook” is rhetoric and hate and ignorance are ideas, they cannot be controlled. Censorship of information, including even violent ideas, is dangerous in a different way, leading to censorship of anything deemed hazardous by those in power.
Until the ideas are put into practice to harm another individual, they are as legal as any idea an American could have. Reading about hate and learning about bombs is different than acting on hate or building bombs.
In many countries, including Iran and China, Internet use is completely controlled by the government.
In many more countries, the government simply does not have the economic and technological capacity or demand for widespread Internet use. Meanwhile, the United States has more Internet users than anywhere in the world, and the Internet here is far more open than any other country.
That openness is not always easy to defend and celebrate. Last week in Minnesota, teenager Jeff Weise was responsible for the worst school shooting since the Columbine tragedy in 1999. As reported by MSNBC, Weise was a Hitler supporter who frequented online Neo-Nazi Web sites and found a dialogue with other visitors.
Anyone can defend freedom when it is compared to tyranny, but what is far more difficult is to defend the wonders of American freedom in the face of its horrific effects.
Weise had access to images and thoughts of hate never available before the Internet. But, we cannot let the passions of the people infringe on America’s remarkable online free speech.
The Internet is a powerful instance of a free-market worth its dangers. Censorship needs to be in the hands of individuals like parents, not legislators like Congress.
We can only hope that the “Anarchist Cookbook,” hate groups and killers don’t exploit our freedoms so much that government tries to control what has become one of the last beacons of unrestrained information.
Despite all of the problems, it is important to enjoy the most free, complete and unbridled source of information in the history of mankind. The U.S. government’s role in the Internet has been minimal. Such is its beauty.
Christopher George Wink can be reached at cwink32@yahoo.com.

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