Design a site like this with
Get started

What is Free Speech in an Online Community?

What is Free Speech in an Online Community?

Often, when we remove an inappropriate post or an offensive member from our Science on Google+ Community, we hear cries of Censorship! and we’re accused of violating the right to free speech. This brilliant xkcd cartoon nails the difference between the right to free speech and the rights and responsibilities of community membership.  

As Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “we live in a country that guarantees free speech, but it’s not a country that guarantees that anything you say is correct”. 



Join the Conversation


  1. i think xkcd is wrong about this when it comes to an internet community, especially an open free public forum. banning someone from such a forum is a denial of free speech rights.


  2. I do think people should be given a couple of chances. You never know what is going in in someone else’s life. Still, because of the medium some people people feel protected by their distance and anonymity, and purposely post abuse because they want the attention an argument will bring. However, despite what may be their perspective, we are NOT virtual imaginary people or willing to continually put up with offensive content. So with those people don’t feel bad for removing them. They’ll troll around finding other places to act like assholes and they’ll never run out of places to do that!


  3. Louis Geri  Open to the public doesn’t mean run by the public. It is perfectly fine to set up a policy for a space that you need to follow in order to be in that space. A person has every right to be a jerk, but not every right to be a jerk right here, right now.


  4. Thøger Emil Rivera-Thorsen Heidi Standell i disagree with both your points. lets take google+ as an example since we’re here right now. if in real life someone says something offensive or abusive you simply move on and choose not to listen to them. on g+ you would simply remove them from your circles or block them. why should google+ ever exert authoritarian censorship over this system?


  5. Louis Geri , a community is not the open internet. It is founded on some guiding principles and we assume that when members join a community, they have read and agree to abide by these rules. For example, the Science on Google+ community has clear guidelines for posting. When a post or member is removed from a community because they don’t follow guidelines (typically, repeat offenders), they are still free to post on their own profile.


  6. Louis Geri  No one said Google should excert censorship (although I think it is a good thing that there are rules about what you can and cannot do on G+). But of course any group on G+ has a purpose, and if a member or a comment sabotages this purpose, of course the only sane thing is to remove it or them (although I am all for goiving people warnings and a few chances first). It is not Science on Google+ ‘s job to host everyone’s rants and ramblings.

    Also, absolute free speech is a contradiction in terms, as it includes the freedom to threaten and intimidate others from excerting their freedom of speech. At some point you are forced to choose whose free speech you will protect. Harassment and hate speech should in my view not be protected like free speech, because its main purpose is to shut others up.


  7. Those in the business, call this insight. The actuality and irony of good humor is that it is not directed at people, but rather it makes fun of thoughts themselves. The driest thing I can think of is: this is funny because we all think. Acting is where we need to draw the line. But some people act without thinking. Some people think without acting. Most people do a lot of both. All I know is: I value those with indirect humor. This is funny. Hahaha. Oops!


  8. Louis Geri Sorry, I’m not understanding you. I didn’t suggest that Google + should itself censor anyone! That would be completely against free speech. What I meant was that it is up to community moderators to decide if and when a post or member is removed, and up to the individual to remove them from their contacts or, if they are entirely fed up, to block the person.


  9. You’re all free to offend whoever you please on your own servers, that you, own, or otherwise arrange to be connected to the internet. Anywhere else it’s quite clear that the person(s) or institutions operating any specific set of servers gets absolute dictatorship over what’s posted/retained. 

    Even then national governments have a nasty habit of censoring things they don’t like for good reasons, (kiddy porn, recipes for Sarin gas) and bad, (China: anything political). 

    Frankly I think Google’s tolerance for certain brands of spammer, particularly climate change deniers, is a bit too lenient. Too bad for me, I don’t own controlling interest in Google. 

    At some point, expanding the topic, certain people will have “read only” access to the internet because lack of ability to read the internet will amount to denial of 1st amendment rights. Currently, courts deny internet access to certain classes of criminals as a matter of course with almost zero protest. 

    Reality: trumping what individuals think or want since forever. 


  10. Terms of use are spelled out quite clearly. No one is forced to join. Your rights end where someone else’s begin. It’s in very poor taste to act out in a public forum. It’s sad anyone should have to enforce rules of civility.


  11. Everyone has the right to be a biggot and deny free speech to others on a community that claims to be for free speech.

    Were do you draw the line?

    Opposing Christianity? Opposing Atheism? Opposing Islam? Opposing Republicans? Opposing Democrats? Opposing Liberals? Opposing Conservatives? Opposing Feminism? Opposing the MHRM? 

    Is there any Indeology that is immune to criticism on this Community?

    If the anwser is yes, you don’t understand the scientific method nor what free speech means.

    As you might know, the status of free speech on collage campuses in the USA is in a really bad shape:

    Nearly 60% of reviewed scooled hold policis that have at least one policy that bath clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.

    Only 3.7% have no serious restrictions to free speech.


  12. Freedom of speech does NOT include saying/writing something to hurt people (propaganda or insults) and doesn’t include words meant to threaten or start fights (thus why the FBI can arrest a girl for making a fake terrorist threat: she is not protected by free speech because she posted a threat). So Randall is wrong for once. The government CAN arrest you for what you say. ESPECIALLY in times of war when you could leak secrets to the enemy.


  13. Timothée Mollet has the opinion that If you can’t deal with something that offends you, you should leave. In a moderated community where there are guidelines for posting and commenting, the offending party is the one who is shown the door, as illustrated so perfectly by this xkcd cartoon.  


  14. John Poteet Climate change deniers? Well I think climate change is a topic open to discussion on any level. Why not? Many of the discussions I’ve come across that are for or against or somewhere in the middle have been educating and interesting to me — so long as people are not just throwing around unsubstantiated opinions and disagreeing just to disagree. But no matter, for a person who wants only to hear a particular point of view on anything, there are all sorts of groups that cater to singular belief systems all over the Internet. As for those with a single agenda or who insult and belittle other people’s opinions I don’t see anything wrong with first asking that person to desist and then taking them out of an open discussion group if they don’t!  You can be a nazi for all I care and if you want to spout off to like minded people go ahead but don’t use an interest group based on equal and respectable discussion as your platform.


  15. Heidi Standell Hmm. I’d suppose you’d feel the same way about people who insist on spamming the meme that arsenic and mercury are effective adaptogenic medical compounds. Sure it’s going to be toxic, and even fatal, to somebody but of course free speech rights should override such concerns. /s

    That’s somewhat stretching the point but there’s a dataset out there somewhere that you don’t want to see propagated. 


  16. KERRI BEGLAN I think my poor damaged psyche can handle it too! I’ve never heard of this db and maybe it is based on a very questionable agenda it has the right to be accessed. The internet is a huge resource we can use for education and learning about new ideas by reading a variety of articles and opinions, but if a person wants to just affirm their (sometimes crazy sounding) opinions or preach to the choir, while I might not agree with any of it, they have the right to publish it.


  17. Heidi Standell Climate change presents a real, non-zero, extinction risk for humans. Currently atmospheric GHG ratios are growing faster than seen in the PETM mass extinction event. 

    It’s not stretching the point that much. 


  18. John Poteet I was talking about your desire to censor opinions and information that don’t fit in with your stance(s), not whether current climate change is induced by humans or by an environmental cyclical variation. That is not what this discussion is about. If you want to discuss climate change, post that as a topic with some references for Science on Google members so that we can discuss it.


  19. Heidi Standell This post is about the ethics of censorship or exclusion in science discussions. It’s almost impossible to discuss that topic in a modern context and ignore climate change denial. 

    Some background: 

    Topic discussion on reddit:

    Popular Science:

    Los Angeles Times:,0,871615.story#axzz2zkoDm2hO


  20. As per the original tenet of this discussion, here it is, copied from above: “Often, when we remove an inappropriate post or an offensive member from our Science on Google+ Community, we hear cries of Censorship! and we’re accused of violating the right to free speech. This brilliant xkcd cartoon nails the difference between the right to free speech and the rights and responsibilities of community membership”. I see nothing regarding censorship of ANY topics to do with science.


  21. You cant fix stupid you can show it the door.

    You can’t take all that stupid has on the way to the door because if you do you take your rights away and mandate how the masses to control your property and mandate your behavior.

    Now stupid has a particular view of the world. Stupid does not conform to the world view.

    The world has a knee jerk reaction to stupid.

    The world mandates stupid to sell his property for non conformity.  We punish stupid, for what stupids says when there is free speech in stupids country.

    Sounds Stupid to me!

    You yourself are stupid for giving up our rights, to feel better about stupid.

    Principals are challenged in the realm of conversation and free speech no matter how vile, wrong or stupid that speech is.

    Now  because we did something stupid  and mandate property loss and fines the whole community is at risk- you are at risk- all are at risk because all will know that non conformity has a personal and monetary price to pay that not everyone can afford.

    Then who is to say what conforms?. Who to name the price? Scary isn’t it.

    So go ahead give up your rights and personal freedoms with glee!!

    All because the  hatred we felt in a  stupid conversation?

    To be honest.  I am going to follow the money here. I feel something is going on because the dissertation is so fierce. Other people of prominence have said stupid things as well and the push for controlling speech as not been as great. They have been merely labeled “stupid” and all have moved on. Only time will tell in this case.

    In some countries people will still stone you for wading against the norm.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: