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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Free Speech Bridled...Or Civility Taking Hold?

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     I wondered when this was going to happen.

    The "Janesville Gazette" says it's dumping it's "comments" section at the end of some of it's online stories,   

     Editors tell the Associated Press that they had high hopes for the feature when it began three years ago but that too many threads turned offensive, and that it took too much manpower to edit the comments.    The paper says it's snuffing the feature on stories about race, sex, courts, crimes and accidents.

     To which I ask, "What took so long?"

     The argument can be made that the paper's move is a 1st Amendment slap in the face and an over-reaction, a cave-in to the uncivil ninnies who can't put together a cogent thought.

     I'm old-school.   I think speech is free, but that it needs to have a name attached to it. 

     Newspapers printed "Letters To The Editor", but almost always required a signature in order for it to make print.   You still have the right to go to the local park, climb up on a soap box and spill your guts to whatever sized crowd you could draw.     You're free to speak, but you also made yourself accountable for what you said.  

     Then came the Internet.

      Anyone could say anything, usually with either no name or a fake moniker.    Some of it was clever, but others opted for the crass, crude and offensive.    It got a pass, because the web was considered unfettered and unchained, a place where thoughts were allowed to roam free no matter how hurtful, racist or foul.

      I've seen it first hand as colleagues got torched at the end of stories on JS Online or other digital media outlets where anyone with a keyboard could tap out the meanest, most vile crap without any fear of having to engage with their victim.    They were the acts of cowards, being passed off as cutting-edge technology freeing up global discourse.

       I could segue deftly here into a rant about campaign financing and the Supreme Court's decision to let companies donate without attribution, but that's a screed for another time.    Suffice it to say that if the Court's backers want to claim "free speech", then I want them to explain what's "free" about "speech" that comes off a TV/radio rate card.   Don't the people have a right to know who's behind the cash behind the candidates, and why companies out of my congressional district (or even beyond the country's shores) feel the need to influence my local elections?

       Sorry.   Then again, I'm not.   I had a take on a controversial subject and put it out there for all to see.   My name sits atop every one of these blogs.    And, thanks to your civility, we haven't had any "comments" issues, except for the occasional come-on from a web business that somehow barnacled it's way onto my little corner of the Internet. 

       Our constitutional fathers were geniuses but they never could've imagined the world we now live in, one with cellphones, constant web access, social media at your fingertips and the proliferation of electronic communications.    The 1st Amendment has never been more important, but it also comes with responsibility, as well as an assumption of courage and common sense.

        And you know what happens when we assume things.

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