Philosophically Based Limitations to Freedom of Speech in Virtual Communities

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This paper applies political philosophy to the question of freedom of speech in virtual communities. It takes as its starting point the philosophical justifications given for freedom of speech in (Greenawalt, in Computers, Ethics and Social Values, Prentice-Hall, 1995). For each of these justifications I discuss the types of speech to which they apply, and implications for virtual communities. The justifications imply several limitations to freedom of speech within a well-run virtual community. I give some examples in which the existence of virtual communities can be used to reflect on extant philosophical arguments and practices. By applying the list of steps for thinking about systems given in (Churchman, in The Systems Approach, New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1968), I obtain a classification framework for thinking about the merits and demerits of a particular speech act, and describe a justification for freedom of speech, missing from Greenawalt's list, that this classification helped me to identify. I give a summary of practical suggestions for administrators of virtual communities. Finally, I discuss why I consider the question of how to regulate speech in virtual communities matters, from a global perspective.

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