For Your Staff: Using the Web
When visiting jewelry industry chat rooms and discussion
groups, speak freely but think first
The Internet has been called the most participatory form of
mass speech yet developed, the best advancement in democracy
since universal suffrage and the greatest soapbox ever built,
on which people freely speak their minds about issues of the
Yet freedom on the Internet is the snarly sort, with faceless
and nameless ranters cyberbashing anyone and anything they please.
Truth often becomes the victim.
There's a war out there between those pushing the free-speech
envelope, sometimes anarchically, and those trying to reign them
in, sometimes oppressively. For the mass of individuals and organizations
in the middle, you can take steps to help avoid getting caught
in the crossfire.
Surveying recent headlines shows how central an issue this
- In the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre, students'
Web sites containing derogatory or threatening comments about
teachers have been taken down, and some students have been expelled.
- Presidential candidate George Bush Jr. bought the rights
to 200 Internet domain names, including "bushsucks.com,"
to prevent critics from using them to create highly visible Web
sites critical of him.
- A jury ordered a group of pro-life activists to pay more
than $100 million in damages after they created a Web site listing
doctors who perform abortions. The site, called the Nuremberg
Files, offered rewards for doctors' addresses and license plate
numbers, with lines drawn through the names of doctors who had
- Defense contractor Raytheon filed suit against nearly two
dozen of its employees for exchanging chitchat about the company
at a Yahoo public discussion board, using aliases. Through the
suit it learned the identities of the chatters and took disciplinary
action against them.
- An anti-hate crime activist was forced to move after she
was threatened with hanging at a Philadelphia-based Web site
operated by white supremacists.
Be Careful Out There
If you like to participate in on-line discussions, post as
if you're sitting in the living room of those reading your messages.
If you write something that disparages someone else, be certain
it's true. Don't threaten others with violence.
If you're an employer or supervisor and intend to monitor
employees' e-mail, establish a policy and communicate it to employees
to prevent hurt feelings and lawsuits. If you're an employee,
recognize your employer has the legal right to read e-mail you
send using company equipment.
If you're employed, be circumspect about what you say on the
'Net, or use a pseudonym. The First Amendment prevents the government
not your employer from stifling your speech. Though
it happens rarely, and when it does it's sometimes challenged
in court, people have been fired for statements they made through
If you come across a Web site critical of you or your business,
try to establish a dialogue. Ask about the circumstances that
led to the person's dissatisfaction. Your reputation can only
improve if you try to solve the problem instead of calling in
If you're concerned that others may be spreading false rumors
about you or your business on the Web or in Usenet discussion
groups, you can use a commercial Internet intelligence service
such as eWatch (www.ewatch.com) or EclipZe (www.eclipze.com).
If you'd like to comment about a Web site, a new way is through
free software program called Third Voice, which you can download
at www.thirdvoice.com. It lets you append Post-It-type notes
to others' sites, though your notes will be visible only to other
Third Voice users.
Court of Public Opinion
Freedom of speech is both a privilege and a burden. Sometimes
what you read can make the hair on your neck stand on end. But
it's long been recognized in this country that the best answer
to "evil" speech is "more speech," as U.S.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote more than a half century
The late newspaper reporter Richard Pothier, who spent his
last years as an on-line debater, put it
this way: "Censorship is never the answer to unpopular opinions.
The court of public opinion makes its own judgment. Intolerance,
bigotry and other stupidity are seen for what they are."
by Reid Goldsborough
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of
the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://members.home.net/reidgold.
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.