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March 06, 2007


Seeta Peña Gangadharan

Lots of good points here. Let me try and recap so I can respond.

First, you argue that national legal jurisdictions are rendered problematic by the internet.

Second, prevention of harmful hate speech can be dealt with by other more effective means other than direct content-specific censorship.

Third, France's attempt to regulate US-based companies has a potentially dangerous global chilling effect.

Fourth, even within the bounds of French jurisdiction and within the context of France's experience with Nazism and even with or without the internet, their prohibition is overbroad and chills speech.

Fifth... and this is more inference/response than recap of your words, peer regulation might be one way to solve the problem.

In general, while I agree with first and second points, the last three are contentious. Let me go out on a limb here and state that I think the First Amendment is culturally-specific that depends on active history of the people it intends to protect. Free expression can be variably interpreted or implemented--as you suggest in your appeal to other mechanisms for censoring harmful content/hate speech.

What works in the United States, in other words, cannot necessarily nor should not necessarily be applied to other countries. This type of argument entails all sorts of connections that might be beyond a discussion of hate speech (e.g., are there such things as universal rights?)... but I think it is important to mention and gets at points three and four.

An additional response to your points is more speculative (well--maybe there's a bit of empirical data to support this) than philosophical. That is--to what extent is the internet already being "balkanized" or made more geographically-rooted and less the "global village?"

The linguistic diversification of the internet may be a boon for governments wishing to fend of harmful content. So that might not be the case with France, because they love Hollywood movies, learn English, etc. But it is potentially the case in nations where populations use character-based languages--i.e., Asia.

The fact of linguistic diversification might enable governments to promote other mechanisms by which to regulate hate speech. (More control of language use, more control over regulation of harmful language.)

That's a bit of question mark... but something to chew on, especially in relation to your points two and three.

As for the last point you raise about peer governance... I'm not too optimistic here. I think I posted something on this before (sorry-I can't seem to hyperlink to it), but my fears for peer governance resemble typical concerns for any self-regulatory mechanisms... and then some. While self-regulation might commit to terms of accountability, I mistrust the enforcement of accountability standards.

What might work better, however, is some mix or halfway point that accounts for the practicality of self-regulation and the need for government oversight.


First of all, I think the French court's actions are futile, because anyone in France can get these hate items from another auction site.
Secondly, I think you raise a good point by saying that these artifacts could be used for good (education, verification of the atrocities, ect.).
I just wanted to clarify for you why the US submitted to French jurisdiction. Yahoo brought a case to the district court in San Jose, which found in favor of Yahoo, citing the First Amendment. The case was appealed to the 9th circuit though, which reversed in favor of the French, saying that the defendants (groups representing French interest) only acted in regard to French transactions and that Yahoo was subject to the rules of France because they agreed to do business there. I would say that for those reasons that it's a legitimate ruling, except that it chills speech everywhere since there are no means for Yahoo to comply with French law except by eliminating all hate/racist items from its auction site.
I don't think peer governance or the First Amendment is needed to solve this problem. I think the French government needs a dose of reality and tolerance. There's nothing to solve. People in China, Singapore, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are willing to risk their lives to go where their government doesn't want them to online. Whatever the punishment is in France, I'm sure it's not life threatening, so I doubt it stops most (anyone) from going where they please. If anything it just drives hate/racism further underground to fester without other points of view, which I will venture is more dangerous than the previous situation.

Elizabeth Audrey

Seeta noted in her post that “What works in the United States, in other words, cannot necessarily nor should not necessarily be applied to other countries.” I absolutely agree with this statement. I did not mean to imply that U.S. law should be applied to France. However, when Yahoo decided to make a universal change to its auction site based on this court case, it seemed as though the reverse occurred and that French law was being applied to the U.S. and the rest of the world. Based on the reasons I provided for why the presentation of Nazi artifacts might be beneficial, I am not comfortable with the fact that the auction sites were taken off the Internet altogether.

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