The EFF: Protecting Freedom Of Speech On The Internet

The Internet: a vast place, full of websites loaded with information on just about any topic you can imagine. As such, one should expect questionable content to pop up from time to time. Some don't agree that there should be graphic, sexual content offered online, while others don't see the harm in it. As long as a disclaimer and age restriction, it shouldn't be a problem — one can choose not to view the content. EFF-logo The EFF: Protecting Freedom Of Speech On The Internet

When a corporation takes it upon themselves to punish a site from the content they publish, no matter what it may be, it's a good thing we have the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to turn to! While web hosting companies are able to choose whether or not they will host certain content, the EFF protects the free speech rights covered under the First Amendment of any content published on the Internet.

Nifty Archive Alliance v. Stripe

One such instance of justice: the case of the Nifty Archive Alliance. They are “a nonprofit entity that supports the Nifty Erotic Stories Archive, a free, volunteer-supported website hosting a wide range of erotic fiction for the GLBTO (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, & Others) community.” While it's true that erotic fiction is age restricted material and that not everyone enjoys reading it, it is protected by the First Amendment.

Stripe decided to suspend the account of the non-profit, feeling that the content they posted on nifty.org was in violation of Stripe's agreements with MasterCard and Visa. The EFF asked Stripe to reinstate their account, and after numerous discussions, that's exactly what happened.

According to a statement by the EFF: “MasterCard's rules, for example, ban ‘sale of a product or service, including an image, which is patently offensive and lacks serious artistic value (such as, by way of example and not limitation, images of nonconsensual sexual behavior, sexual exploitation of a minor, nonconsensual mutilation of a person or body part, and besiality).' Visa and MasterCard's brand protection rules are subject to a wide range of interpretation. Questions about what erotic stories are overly offensive or not sufficiently artistic beg for interpretation, and we are concerned that payment processors might be choosing to shut down sites that host entirely legal fiction out of fear of violating these agreements with the upstream providers.”

The “Gatekeepers” Are The Problem: The EFF: Protecting Freedom Of Speech On The Internet

While it's true the Constitution prevents our government from censoring content such as erotic fiction, there is no law out there stopping payment processors like Stripe from cancelling accounts, no matter if they are legal or not, because they don't like the content. Even web hosting companies can choose whether or not they will host the proposed content.

The EFF realizes this, and goes on to say, “There are ever-increasing opportunities for third party service providers' rules to supersede the First Amendment and censor speech. To be clear, payment providers as well as other intermediaries have their own First Amendment rights not to carry speech with which they disagree. But we believe that intermediaries — like ISPs, registrars, payment providers, search engines, and even platforms for user-generated content like Facebook — are most valuable when they serve as neutral platforms. Online speech is dealt a serious blow when these intermediaries choose to actively censor controversial content. Worst of all, censorship by these private actors isn't subject to judicial appeal; terms of use typically give these intermediaries the right to shut down any account at any time for any reason.”

They call these intermediaries “the gatekeepers,” and it isn't the first time they've had to battle against them to protect Internet freedom of speech. Earlier in 2012, PayPal adjusted their own policies after the EFF went after them for the same reason as Stripe.

It certainly won't be the last time, either. As long as there are people on this earth, they'll be disagreeing over the censorship of offensive material. The EFF will be there, assuring that the Internet remains a free and open place.

How do you feel about this issue? Do you think offensive material belongs on the Internet, or would you rather see it cleaned up a bit? We'd love to hear your opinion!

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