Last updated: October 12, 2010 - 8:34am
[Commentary] Free speech was swell when it was just a few early Americans talking amongst themselves, their flintlocks leaning in the corner as they debated the fine points of the Federalist Papers. Other than the threat of being hauled up for sedition, those were the days. Then along came Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Larry Flint, the ACLU, 24-hour cable, and the Circus Maximus of the Internet.
Not only can anybody say and show anything - and you know what I mean by anything - but people all over the world are tuning in. Free listening is the flip side of free speech. It is about 200 years younger than the First Amendment. I'd date its birth to 1987, when Moscow stopped jamming the Voice of America and other external broadcasters. Free societies don't jam. They let the marketplace of ideas decide, as John Stuart Mill said they should. They trust their people, even when they say and do jerky things. North Korea, China, Iran, and a few other countries still don't allow unfettered access to the Internet, but most of the world is clicking, watching, and listening. Seconds after an article is published on the Web, it is picked up by search engines. Everyone can see it - the misquoted villager, the government official irked at how his country was portrayed. Everyone can be a fact-checker. That's good. It improves accuracy. It may also mean that a closed society that puts a Google watch on a reporter's name may not let that reporter back into the country. Such are the trade-offs in the era of the global conversation.
Long live free speech. Here's hoping free speakers don't overdo it. Here's hoping all the new free listeners get used to it.
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