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Fwd: FC: More on "banning hate on the Internet"

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> From: Thomas Leavitt <thomasleavitt@hotmail.com>
> Date: Thu, 25 Mar 1999 11:22:32 -0800


As owner/operator of a web site hosting service since 1994, and a 
proponent of free speech etc., here is my opinion:

As long as I worked at my last company, WebCom, we operated on the basis 
that we were a common carrier, and should not be held liable or 
responsible for the content of our customer's sites.

My personal belief is that hatred and ignorance fester and spread in a 
clandestine fashion when suppressed... the forbidden is always 
attractive, there is always the question of "what doesn't the government 
want you to know, and why?"

Which is an entirely reasonable question: no rational person trusts their 
government not to slide down the slippery slope of convenient censorship 
and silencing of outspoken voices.

It is better that our children and populace be educated and innoculated, 
by having hatemongers debated and refuted in the light of day... 
ignorance is not bliss, it is dangerous. The fact is that hatemongers 
usually hoist themselves by their own petard when exposed to the light of 
day. We should not give them the luxury of spreading their poison without 
fear of refutation and rebuttal.

WebCom hosted some of the most infamous sites on the Internet: The 
Zundelsite (infamous in Canada), the Rudolph Hess home page, even the 
American Knights of the KKK. Vile, disgusting slimeballs that made our 
poor technical support people nauseous to deal with. Yet, we treated them 
just like any other customer.

After I left, the policy changed, but it is my personal opinion that if 
you believe in freedom of speech (I'm a card carrying member of the 
ACLU), and you operate an Internet content hosting service, it is 
hypocritical to censor or forbid any kind of otherwise legal content.

The Internet is the universal medium of communications for the 21st 
century. It is also a unique medium, in that not only the speaker, but 
all the companies providing the speaker with the tools to speak with, are 
identifiable. The looniest crank, the most bigoted slimeball racist 
homophobic scum, can buy a computer or typewriter and then walk into 
Kinkos or any copy shop and be fully capable of making him or her self 
heard - and none of the companies involved in making that possible can be 
identified, or even reasonably expected to know what he or she intends to 

But, on the Internet, your web host and email provider, and the network 
provider (and the co-lo facilities provider and the backbone service 
provider, every single company over whose network a hatemonger's data 
flows) can be identified. And pressured.

If every single company operated on a basis of denying access to 
controversial or upsetting voices (of the left or right), or companies 
that serve them, then it is quite possible for an Orwellian situation to 
emerge in which it is quite literally impossible for a dissenting voice 
to be heard (at least publicly).

Nope, I'm sorry, they can't operate their own servers... someone has to 
be willing to provide them with a network line... oops, nope, they can't 
operate their own network either... someone has to lease them the wires, 
and provide them with connections to other networks. No way to 
anonymously have a web site... the data has to reside a an identifiable 
network address with a traceable route to the data.

Therefore, in summary, it is my belief that a true proponent of free 
speech must be committed to providing a vehicle for all legal forms of 
speech, and not censor or kick off any customer engaged in entirely legal 
conduct, merely because that person's speech offends. The alternative is 
tacit, de facto censorship, and all the damange that entails to the 
health of a society. And the potential for an utterly ignorant society, 
unpracticed in dealing with the tactics of hate, to be led astry by a 
charismatic hatemongering propagandist like Hitler or Pol Pot. [In 
practice, this should also be countered by a healthy commitment to making 
it as easy as possible for countering voices to get on-line and counter 
the hatemongers.]

Note: I'm aware that with the use of anonymous email relay servers, 
encryption, and anonymous usenet relays, it is possible to have a private 
conversation right out in the open, and to post materials in a manner 
that is theoretically untraceable while also being theoretically 
universally accessible, but the result cannot be considered equivalent.

With regards to the posting below:

People working to counter the actions of those spreading hatred and 
bigotry should be praised... as long as they seek to positively educate 
people, and not suppress the opinions they speak against.

I think the government should active work to educate people against 
ignorance, hatred and discrimination. It may not always do it perfectly, 
and it is likely to result in occassional excesses, but doing so is a 
part of the process of raising and educating children in a civilized 
society. I find it curious that the typical protest against this sort of 
activity usually comes down to villifying what usually consists of two 
sentences out of a several hundred or thousand line text. Speaks to the 
weakness of any argument against the bulk of the material presented.

We (both Americans and Canadians, everyone in fact) live in a 
multi-cultural society, and we have a legacy of stupidity to counter... 
more than that: racism, sexism, homophobia, stupidity of every stripe is 
alive, and real, and pervasive at all levels of society (as I grow older, 
this only becomes more and more clear). It is no more absurd to have a 
ministry devoted to figuring out how we can all live together in peace, 
and treat each other with respect and dignity, than it is to have a 
ministry of war or transportation!

The current tragedy in the former Yugoslavia is as much the result of 
decades of suppression and censorship and the breakdown of a commitment 
to pluralism by the institutions of society as it is of anything else. We 
must not let that happen here. Only by actively commiting to engage the 
hatemongers directly, in public, can we prevent them from taking over.

Providers must *NOT* ban hate on the Internet. They must not let 
themselves become agents of censorship. The health of our society depends 
on each of us standing up and acting on behalf of our commitment to 
freedom of speech, in practice as well as in theory.

Thomas Leavitt
CEO, NextShift, Inc.

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