If you spend some time on the internet, you’ll probably see a pattern tied with deleting someone’s posts (or tweets, statuses, comments etc.). The victim will argue that they are being censored, and that their right to is broken. The usual answer they’ll receive is that “first amendment only applies to governments”.
Funny enough, this pattern plays itself out even on websites that are hosted outside of USA, whose owners and members often aren’t citizens of USA and thus have no connection with constitution of USA. But that is by far the least problematic thing with these arguments, considering almost every other country in the world protects (or pays lip service to) the free speech.
So, to clear this up, let’s first look at what freedom of speech actually is. This is a quote from wikipedia:
Freedom of speech is the political right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas using one’s body and property to anyone who is willing to receive them. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.
Important word in above definition is “political right”. Again, from our old buddy wikipedia:
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals’ freedom from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.
Bold part is mine.
So, it’s not just government that can censor you, private organization can do it as well. This is important, because so many people believe that if you aren’t government, you cannot censor someone, or infringe on their right to free speech.
When people think of censorship, they usually think of removing someone’s text, video or audio clip or whatever, but this is not the only way. There are others, far more vile methods that are rarely seen as outright censorship.
Let’s say you have a group, and it might not be anything more complicated than couple of friends, harass you every time you try to express your opinion. Let’s say it’s not physical harassment, not a hair will fall from your head, but at the end you’ll feel like a piece of shit. You’ll feel stupid, rejected, insane. You’ll eventually ask “Why bother”. You won’t speak out anymore. And the group that silenced you, will have a field of debate only to themselves.
And don’t forget the old saying, straight from the Nazi mouth “Lie repeated often enough becomes truth”. If you can have a field of debate without anyone countering your talking points, you can sell anything. This is why the above hypothetical scenario occurs so much, on the net, tv, radio or whatever. Having the ability to influence hearts and minds is tremendous power, and folks all over are ready to do anything for power.
Anyway, I’ll reiterate my conclusion in bold. It’s effective, right?
If a person cannot express their thoughts, ideas and theories without being bullied, ridiculed and beaten down into submission, then they are being censored, regardless who is doing it.
Caveat- That doesn’t mean criticism is automatically in this category. But if criticism turns into personal insults, vicious spewing of bile on the level a gay guy would receive on skinhead convention, then it squarely falls into harassment. Also, website owner deleting someone’s post or comment can be a double edge sword. If removal benefits one side of debate over another, I’d say it’s definitely censorship.
I suppose, in the end, the best way to go around respecting the right of others while being able to retain yours in respect to free speech, is to remember the words of Will Wheaton: Don’t be a dick.