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The Line Between FREE Speech and Policy

In the United States, the first Amendment of the constitution guarantees the freedom of speech by saying " Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The right to freedom of speech is guaranteed under international law through numerous human-rights instruments, notably under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, although implementation remains lacking in many countries.

At what point does free speech violate terms of service with the blog host?

The folks at Blogger say that they strongly believe in freedom of speech.

"We believe that having a variety of perspectives is an important part of what makes blogs such an exciting and diverse medium. With that said, there are certain types of content that are not allowed on Blogger. While Blogger values and safeguards political and social commentary, material that promotes hatred toward groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity is not allowed on Blogger. It is our belief that censoring this content is contrary to a service that bases itself on freedom of expression.

In order to uphold these values, we need to curb abuses that threaten our ability to provide this service and the freedom of expression it encourages. As a result, there are some boundaries on the type of content that can be hosted with Blogger. The boundaries we've defined are those that both comply with legal requirements and that serve to enhance the service as a whole."

Blogger and Google make it clear that they do not allow certain topics and will take action if it is used. These topics include;

  • PORNOGRAPHY, Pedophilia, Incest and Bestiality AND OBSCENITY

Bloggers can be pivotal in repressive environments where the media live in constant fear of the political leadership. In Egypt, China Vietnam, Syria, Tunisia, Libya and Iran -- are a few to have been documented.

Recently Google was criticized in the press for complying with censorship. According to these critics, Google complied for better access to the Chinese market, including being able to base servers in China and have to have access sped up because the Chinese government is no t longer blocking them. Reuters provides more details on this plus an explanation from Google:

"In order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on, in response to local law, regulation or policy," the company said.

Despite the restrictions, Google executives said they believe the company can play a more positive role by participating in the Chinese market, than by boycotting the country in order to avoid such compromises.

"While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission "

More Recently, Dutch photographer Maarten Dors met the limits of free speech at Yahoo Inc.'s photo-sharing service, Flickr, when he posted an image of an early-adolescent boy with disheveled hair and a ragged T-shirt, staring blankly with a lit cigarette in his mouth.

Without notice, Yahoo deleted the photo on grounds it violated an unwritten ban on depicting children smoking. Dors eventually convinced a Yahoo manager that -- far from promoting smoking -- the photo had value as a statement on poverty and street life in Romania. Yet another employee deleted it again a few months later.

"I never thought of it as a photo of a smoking kid," Dors said. "It was just of a kid in Romania and how his life is. You can never make a serious documentary if you always have to think about what Flickr will delete."

There may be legitimate reasons to take action, such as to stop spam, security threats, copyright infringement and child pornography . In Dors' case, the law is fully with Yahoo. Its terms of service, similar to those of other service providers, gives Yahoo "sole discretion to pre-screen, refuse or remove any content." Service providers aren't required to police content, but they aren't prohibited from doing so.

What you can do

  • If you are in doubt about whether or not your blog post is not allowed, check the policy of the host giving you the blog space. If you don't, be prepared to accept the repercussions.
  • If you stumble upon a blog that you find offensive by the terms set by the host, you have the right to report it. The easiest way is to flag it.
  • If you are unable to flag the blog, please click here to fill out an abuse report..