Free speech includes the right to set editorial policy

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are about having the right to choose what you say. Part of this means being able to say what you want to say; an equally important part of free speech means the right to refrain from saying things you *don’t* want to say.

And, in a broader sense, this includes editorial policy. If you publish a magazine, you make choices about which articles to include and which articles to reject. That’s an essential part of what a magazine is. A magazine has a certain topic and point of view, expressed as much in what it does not publish as what it does.

For example:

  • Socialist journals do not publish articles in defense of capitalism
  • Medical journals do not publish articles that have not passed peer review
  • Jewish community newsletters do not publish arguments for conversion to Christianity

The fact that these types of publications only publish things that support their mission and policy is not a violation of free speech; it is an *expression* of free speech.

This is as true on the internet as it is in print media.

Deciding what to put on your website, and what *not* to put on your website, is part of how you exercise your free speech. That includes things like:

  • Posting about things you want to post about
  • Not posting about things you don’t want to post about
  • Responding to responses to your writing that you want to engage with
  • Not engaging with responses you prefer not to respond to
  • Making decision about whether you want to have comments, and if so, which kind of comments to allow

No matter what choices you make about these things on the internet, someone will accuse you of censorship and insist that their right to free speech means that you have an obligation to publish their opinions. It doesn’t. Their right to freedom of speech is about what *they* say; it does not give them the right to make *you* say anything, or to publish them, or to pay attention to them.

Free speech means you have the right to say what you want to say, and to refrain from saying things that you do not want to say.

Some thoughts on internet safety.

Can you blog post on safety on internet, facebook and privacy, etc?

Here are some things I think I know about Internet safety:

Regarding making friends:
  • Social interaction on the internet is a legitimate and life-enchancing form of social interaction
  • People on the internet don’t exist in isolation; they are real people and shouldn’t be treated as fictional characters (even if you think they’re lying about who they are. Lying is different from not existing)
  • Since they are real people and real relationships, it’s possible to get hurt by toxic relationships or even just mistakes. Relationships have consequences.
Regarding meeting people in person
  • Meeting people from the internet isn’t exceptionally dangerous. It’s presented in the media and by scaremongering organizations as likely to get you killed, but that’s not remotely accurate.
  • Making mistakes about who to trust, and going off to secluded locations with people who aren’t trustworthy *is* dangerous. But that’s not a unique internet problem; people do that in bars all the time.
  • That said, if you’ve been talking to someone very intensely or for an extended period, it’s easy to get a misleading impression of how trustworthy they are in person. You don’t know what someone is like in person until you have spent a significant amount of time interacting with them in person.
  • For that reason, it’s important to go slowly - trust built in online interactions shouldn’t automatically transfer to in-person interactions. 
  • Online interactions are real, but they’re not interchangeable with in-person interactions. A lot of people are better online than they are in person; a lot of people learn to have good interactions online before they learn how in person. And that’s ok, but important to be aware of.
Regarding predators:
  • There are a lot of predatory people on the internet, and other places.
  • The difference on the internet is that people don’t need as much accumulated reputation in order to meet people.
  • In person, people mostly meet through friends. Online, people can interact directly. Which means you have to rely on your own judgement more, and if you want to rely on your friends’ judgement in the way you would in an offline social circle, you have to tell them about the people you’re talking to.
  • For that reason, it’s usually best if you don’t talk to someone in complete isolation, it’s safer if other people know who you are talking to.
  • Some people will try to trick and manipulate you and lie about who they are in order to hurt you. This is not a problem specific to the internet; people do that all the time in person too. But it’s important to know that it happens online too – and you have to learn different skills for detecting it, if in person you rely heavily on affect to tell who to trust (which isn’t actually as reliable as people tend to think it is anyway)
Regarding toxicity:
  • There are huge numbers of all kinds of people on the internet, including really toxic people
  • Sooner or later, you will attract aggressively toxic people
  • If you feel an obligation to interact with them, their toxicity will hurt you
  • It’s important to learn who is and is not good to talk to, and to learn how to disengage with people who are harmful
  • Spending all of your time arguing with toxic people probably won’t make the world better, but it probably will make your life worse.
  • The block button is important. Learn how and when to use it.
Regarding potentially dangerous personal information
  • Don’t give anyone your credit card number. If you need to give someone money for some reason, use PayPal. However, PayPal will reveal your legal name, so don’t use that if you need to remain anonymous. You can use gift certificates (or maybe bitcoin, but that’s not usually very useful).
  • If you’re violating serious taboos with things you post, people might go to great lengths to find out who you are and create problems for you. Don’t make it easy for them, and don’t assume that you’re safe just because you’re not in the same room.
  • Putting pictures of your children online doesn’t endanger them in any way, but it’s likely to embarrass them later. So it’s often not such a nice thing to do. A litmus test: if it was a picture of you, and you’d object to your mother showing it to your boyfriend, don’t post it to Facebook if it’s a picture of your kid.

Privacy on the Internet

Can you blog post on safety on internet, facebook and privacy, etc?


To an extent, no, I can’t. I don’t know very much about what to do about privacy and safety on the internet.  

I don’t know very much about that, because no one knows very much about that, yet.

What I do know is that some of the rules people say to follow are wrong, and aren’t actually followed by anyone. They’re complicated, and somewhat separate, so I’m going to talk about privacy first.

People will tell you that you things like this about privacy:

  • Never put anything personal on Facebook
  • Don’t have conversations on Twitter
  • You shouldn’t have a blog unless it’s professional and polished and uncontroversial.
  • Never write anything in an email that you wouldn’t want on the cover of the New York Times

And it’s true that if you don’t do any of these things, you probably won’t have internet-related privacy problems. But that doesn’t make this good advice – this advice mostly boils down to “never use the Internet for anything but reading things and sending trivial emails”. And that is isolating; it means cutting yourself off from conversations that happen on the internet. And, more and more, it means cutting yourself off from a good percentage of worthwhile conversations that happen *anywhere*. That’s not actually a good idea.

Advice that amounts to never use the internet is kind of like saying that if you want to avoid car crashes, you should never get into a car. That’s true, but useless.

I don’t know a good solution to this. No one does, not yet.

Here are some things I think I do know about privacy

  • Pseudonyms can provide a measure of privacy by preventing things from coming up when someone googles your name. This is good enough for many purposes.
  • Pseudonyms are risky because they can make you feel safer than you really are. They’re not very good protection for serious secrets.
  • Sometimes you have to rely on them to discuss things anyway, because sometimes there is just no other viable way to have a conversation that needs to happen. But it is a serious risk, and in the long term, it’s fairly likely that people will figure out who you are.
  • If you’re violating a serious taboo, use Tor. 
  • If you’re using a pseudonym for something, make sure you’re not also using that username for something publicly linked to your real name. (For instance: People get unmasked all the time because they use the same username for OkCupid or Twitter as for their anonymous writing).
  • It’s probably a bad idea to put a link to something you wrote anonymously on Facebook. People who know you are likely to be able to figure it out. Even if them knowing isn’t a problem, they might comment in ways that make it obvious to the people you need to conceal this from.
  • Not all email lists are created equal. Some post their archives publicly in ways that can be googled; others don’t. Make sure you know which kind of email list you’re on, and post accordingly.
  • Be aware that most chat programs keep records of conversations, and consider whether the person you are talking to can be trusted not to share them (whether intentionally or by accident).
  • Use good passwords for your accounts, and don’t tell them to anyone. This comic has a good explanation of how to select good memorable password.