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Free Speech on the Internet
added Thu December 20 2007 at 8:18 PM
It's not the first time this has come up on my site. I guess with all my libertarian rhetoric, it's an inevitable topic. Am I allowed to censor the commentary on my site?

Technically, the answer is an obvious affirmative. In fact, I do it all the time. Because I've been too busy, I haven't set up the proper permissions or even a good captcha scheme to keep spambots awaay. I've thought about it at various points, but right now really isn't the time to do it. At any rate, I started getting serious amounts of blog spam several months ago and I made it so that I have to manually approve all comments. It is technically easier for me to disallow a comment than to allow it.

Legally, it's probably an open and shut case. It is my private website, hosted on my brother's private server. I make it clear that I am strictly moderating all comments. I do not advertise my website as an open forum. I could probably be a bit more clear and make a legal disclaimer that I may delete comments for any reason, but if it were ever a legal issue, I would just remove all comments before allowing a comment that I didn't want to.

But what are the ethics involved? I claim to be a proponent of free and open discourse. I often complain about government playing Big Brother and trying to repress free expression. So at what point do I put my foot down?

I have to block the spam comments because otherwise my site will be seen as a link farm and blacklisted from search engines. Not to mention that they would bloat my comment table and some of them would make a sailor blush. I really should be more responsible about preventing them from making comments to begin with, but that's neither here nor there.

But what about pests? How much abuse do I have to permit before I start deleting comments? I would like to believe that I have a fairly high tolerance for such things, and I'm obviously conscious of the possible hypocrisy since I am, after all, calling your attention to it. But when I say that we only have as much freedom as we allow those we disagree with, how much freedom do I really want?

Here is where I'm going to draw my line - you can say whatever idiotic junk you'd like to, and I will allow it to be posted under your name. However, if you actively make personal attacks against me or any other commenter, I will replace your entire comment with a clear statement that I am censoring the comment. You can then restate your opinion in a civilized manner and I will consider allowing it. I also will take the liberty of censoring profanity or crudeness at my whim. I would appreciate if all comments contributed to the discussion at hand, but I won't require that since I don't always make sense. This is my home and you are a welcome guest, but please don't try and convince me to kick you out.
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