The point is made that the initial hopes for the Internet was that it would become a “grand “public forum”” in which free speech, at least in the US, would be given the very highest protection; however during the development of the Internet, the US government was influenced to hand over the regulation of the Internet to private organisations. Effectively these grand public spaces have become owned commercial spaces under the control of their various owners. As a result, the government is no longer able to protect the rights of free speech in these privately owned commercial spaces. The promise of the Internet, that it would become a grand publci space has all but been lost. At least in real space we have the opportunity of both private and public speech, but in a commercially owned space, much of this balance is lost.
The authors claim that “[o]n the Intemet, however, essentially no places exist to serve as “pub-
lic forums” because the places within which expression occurs are over-whelmingly privately owned.” However they appear to ignore, or make light of, the existence of private blogs, particularly those using freely available, publicly developed software such as WordPress. Whilst there argument may be that the files making up the blog are hosted by a privately owned ISP, and therefore subject to the private censorship of the ISP, the experience of the private blogger is that, utilising such software, they are quite free to say whatever they chose.
If their argument is that there are essentially no public spaces on the Internet in or on which individuals can avail themselves of the opportunity for uncensored free speech, then the nature of private blogs must be questioned. If they are not public spaces, then at what point do they become commercially owned spaces. It is understandable to say that private blogs on MySpace or Blogger – controlled and censored as they are by their corporate owners – are the subject of corporate censorship of free speech. Just how a private blog, hosted on an individual’s own domain, and regulated only very minimally by the regulations of the ISP – which could be a very liberal overseas ISP – is regulated by commercial interests is not made clear.
It is this unusual nature of a private blog, one of the few remaining platforms for free speech, that is so interesting for this research. If employees attempt to use a corporate blog to create organisational change they must inevitably come up against the power of the corporate censors. On a private blog, they are free to say whatever they chose. Inevitably corporations will attempt to broaden their domain and sphere of influence into the world of the private blog if it is thought that their interests are not being served by the employee. Their attempts to do so will be by way of employment contracts that consider a variety of censorship options aimed at the regulation of the otherwise free speech of employees, including that of private blogging, and employees will continue to test these censorship limits.
As a footnote to this short review, it is worth noting that the article is very US focussed with a very detailed legal examination of the First Amendment rights of free speech in the United States. There are many countries in which no such amendment exists (Australia is one such example); and it is worthwhile examining the nature of private blogs and the use to which they are put by employees.
THE DEATH OF THE PUBLIC FORUM IN
By Dawn C. Nunziato
downloaded from http://web.ebscohost.com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/ehost/pdf?vid=27&hid=8&sid=0a5b81f3-76eb-4ab1-95b8-57abec0b1014%40sessionmgr2
on 4th March 2008