Be accountable for own free speech


In a recent editorial that ran on Sept. 13, The Daily Targum staff argued that what you write or post on personal Web sites is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech and, as such, "it is unfair for people to hold what you write on your personal Web sites against you, especially because it is not a professional site. If it has nothing to do with a job then there should be no penalization for your opinion on a certain matter." While the Targum may have good intentions, this idea is simply wrong. It is well within the rights of every person, company and even government to hold what you freely say or do against you, especially when these actions are done in public, which the Internet is. Social networking sites are no more private than notes passed between classmates. At any point in time that note can be picked up by someone else and read, shared and copied for all to see. Free speech, including on the Internet, is a guaranteed right of every person, but it does not guarantee that what you say or do is in the right or that you can't be held accountable for such. For example, one cannot yell "fire" in a crowded theatre or "bomb" on an airplane and expect to be protected by freedom of speech. As well, defamation of any kind can and will be held against those who freely choose to do so. This is not to say that people shouldn't express their opinions, but there's no reason that those opinions can't be held against them in court, at a job interview or in public office. Anyone making an opinion on a matter should be able to defend it. Otherwise they shouldn't be making an opinion at all.Similarly, whether one chooses to post, for example, racist, anti-Semitic or hateful comments online or in a public park makes no difference to those who hear or read them. Those kinds of opinions simply aren't acceptable in today's world, and if the one who said these things happens to be a public figure or a student looking for a job, he will likely be held accountable for those opinions and could lose his job for them.The Targum noted "judges, certain civil servants and journalists … have to be able to do their jobs objectively and should not compromise that objectivity. They can lose their credibility if they do. But to think they do not have an opinion on a certain topic is unfair." While this is true and it is unfair to think they do not have an opinion on a certain topic, that opinion should be held to themselves and to their personal, non-public circle of friends. A judge who has expressed strong personal opinions about abortion should probably not reside over an abortion rights case. Likewise, a reporter who openly supports one side of an issue should probably be the last to cover said issue. This is extremely important, as personal opinions can sometimes weigh so heavily on a story that journalistic integrity comes into question. Opinions made in public should be left to those on either side of the conflict, with the reporter as neutral presenting both sides.As for those who post on Facebook, Myspace or Twitter and claim that due to their privacy settings all their information and opinions are protected, they are sadly mistaken. It needs to be made clear: Everything posted on the Internet is available to the public, even things you wish to keep private. The American Civil Liberties Union recently made a Facebook quiz application to drive that point home. With each question in the ACLU's privacy quiz, you're shown that everything on your profile and your friends' profiles, privacy protected or not, is available to them — though of course, the ACLU is a trusted organization with a privacy policy that won't use this information, unlike the thousands of other quiz developers. Thus, it behooves our generation to realize that the Internet is not divided into personal, locked diaries for us all to use. Everything we say or do on it is public. We are all accountable for our actions, good or bad, and our actions on the Internet are no exception. Ehud Cohen is a School of Engineering sophomore majoring in computer engineering.


Ehud Cohen

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