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Readers vote for free speech

Online services should provide access to extremist sites, even if the content is objectionable, according to a new NEWS.COM Poll.

Free speech must reign supreme.

That's the response readers gave to this week's NEWS.COM Poll, which asked whether online services should provide access to hate groups and extremist sites.

Readers said America Online had done the right thing when faced with this issue earlier this month. Under pressure from the Anti-Defamation League to take down a page that promoted the Ku Klux Klan, the country's largest online service decided not to take action against the site even though the company's Terms of Service would have permitted it to do so.

Should online services provide access to extremist sites?
Seventy-three percent of the 81 readers who participated in our unscientific poll said that online services should provide access to hate groups and other extremists sites. Many wrote that even though they disagreed with the extremist groups' views, they feel understanding what extremists believe is the best way to counter them.

"It really does come down to free speech," wrote reader Scott Advani. "Let them have their say, in their own words, and the public will see what wing-nut ideas most of these groups believe."

Most readers also said ISPs should continue to rely on the good judgment of Internet users, as well as filtering software, to protect against the influence of these sites. To turn to censorship instead is to buck the free spirit of the nation and of the Net.

But many also believe that while AOL should not censor extremist literature, it should not be required to provide access either. Many readers cited the fact that AOL is a private company and should be allowed to choose what pages it stores in its servers.

See the following page for readers' explanations of their votes.

You decide
Who gets to decide what is bigoted or extremist and what is not?

AOL? Steve Case? The PTA? The Christian Coalition? Janet Reno?

I hope not.

Though I despise white or black "Nationalism," I must insist on it having the freedom to exist. We should protect children from it, but we should also protect intellectual freedom.
 --Robert Day

The right to choose
Should an ISP take money from someone who wants to give it to them for their services? Absolutely. They're a business; they should want to make money.

Should they be required to? No. Freedom of association is just as much part of the First Amendment as freedom of speech; why should an ISP not be allowed to say, 'No, I will not associate with you, I will not propagate your views'?

Nope, large online services should not host hate groups, if you want my answer. But not because of any compelling free-speech initiative; because they choose not to. Let hate speech find its own level among civil libertarians and speech activists, and give ISPs the same First Amendment protection we give the lunatic fringe.
 --Anonymous

Protect our children
The existence of these hate groups online makes them accessible to people who may be recruited or influenced by them. With children in mind, this problem surpasses the indecency of porn. They could very easily make a child think things that she/he would not normally think. In my opinion, allowing them online allows them to spread even further than they already have. In this day and age, that is the last thing the Internet or other online services should be used for.
 --Shawn

Let freedom ring
While personally I think that the actions, thoughts and ideals of many of these groups are sickening and immoral, saying that you support free speech and the freedom of expression--as some of the major online services have stated--means that you must support all free speech, whether you personally agree with it or not.

What makes the Internet such an invaluable resource, is that we all have universal equal rights. If this reality becomes tainted because of the thoughts and opinions of a few, the ideals that the Internet was based on will be destroyed, ultimately affecting the many.
 --David Knepper

Hate groups should take a hit
The promotion of hate is tearing this country apart right now. It is about time that someone took a stand against hate groups. Free speech needs to take a hit with this. No one should be allowed to preach hate towards another person or group. I don't like the KKK, but I recognize their right to exist. I do not feel that the KKK has a free speech right to preach hate towards Jews, Homosexuals, or African Americans.
 --John Murrow

Define the fringe
It's not a simple case of should it be allowed or not?. ISPs or content hosting services should publish their policies and be allowed to act upon them. One person's extremist site is another person's chance to tell the world a different side of the story.

I suspect that the Chinese government considers sites covering the Tianamen Square massacre 'extremist;' it all depends on your agenda.
 --Mathew Lodge