Griping, bitching and speaking your mind: defamation and free expression on the internet

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The Internet has been referred to judicially as "the most participatory marketplace of mass speech that ... the world ... has yet seen"; as a "far more speech-enhancing medium than print" and a "never-ending world-wide conversation." 1 These quotations from Judge Dalzell of the District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania in ACLU v. Reno 2 are now so familiar that they have lost their impact. Although this judgment focused on the balance between freedom of information and one particular type of speech, namely "indecent" speech, a major emphasis was on the general democratising effect of the Internet as a method of communication. The Internet was said to be capable of "blurring the distinction between speakers and listeners" 3 and leading to the erosion of barriers to discourse between those who might historically have been disenfranchised or, in any event, had little opportunity to participate in public debate. This ease of participation is enhanced by the ability to speak anonymously in Internet communication. This is particularly relevant given that anonymity has a long pedigree as a method of protecting the voice of the oppressed, the minority and those seeking help. As emphasised by the Council of Europe, the Internet can provide "unprecedented opportunities for all to enjoy freedom of expression."
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519-538
JournalPenn State Law Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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