Friday, April 26, 2002

THE SURVEILLANCE VALUE OF FREE SPEECH:A few days ago James Taranto launched a campaign on OpinionJournal's Best of the Web (click here, here, here, and here) to persuade MSN and Yahoo to shut down racist on-line groups that violate those companies' policies against hate speech and the like. Best of the Web correctly dismisses some readers' complaints that this campaign violates free speech -- the First Amendment says the government can't censor speech, not private companies. But there's a good objection grounded in common sense. One benefit of letting bad people speak their mind in public is that the rest of us can learn what's on their mind and figure out whether they're merely obnoxious or actually dangerous. Chasing neo-Nazis, skinheads, and the KKK off the web won't make them stop talking -- or plotting. They'll just do it in secret where we can't listen in.

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