The Offensive Internet: Speech, Privacy, and Reputation

Privacy and Security, Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing and Internet

Article Snapshot


Saul Levmore and Martha Nussbaum


Saul Levmore and Martha C. Nussbaum, eds., Harvard University Press, 2011


The editors argue that reputation, speech, and privacy are connected and may be endangered by Internet offensiveness.

Policy Relevance

The Internet has changed interactions among people, in some ways, to those of a small village. For the well-informed it is a boon, but to the ignorant it can be dangerous and harmful. There are a variety of ideas on how to protect people’s speech, privacy, and reputation on the Internet.

Main Points

  • One possible solution to the ills of the Internet is regulating Internet providers by forcing them to reveal the source of non-protected speech. However, this method goes against the prevalence of anonymity on the Internet.
  • Another possible solution is tort law regulations that would punish those who violate personal privacy in the same way tort law punishes defamation.
  • A solution outside law or regulation is perhaps a better option. Private institutions, such as churches, schools, and employers, could influence structural changes in the way social networking sites are used, for instance.
  • Forum Provider instructions might be regulated to provide another solution: utilizing a “notice and take-down” policy like that used in copyright law or decreasing anonymity by requiring providers to reveal the source of offensive speech.
  • The First Amendment is heavily involved in possible solutions to the offensive Internet. Considering what constraints on free speech are acceptable or desirable is important. A distinction between high value and low value speech, with high value speech being much harder to restrict, has been recognized.
  • Privacy is also heavily involved in the offensive Internet. Privacy is used to describe four values: seclusion, intimacy, secrecy, and autonomy. These notions come together and diverge depending on the activity or information involved.
  • The values of speech, privacy, and reputation are all important and the Internet, while capable of much benefit, can also cause long-lasting and irreparable harm through some of its offensiveness. These values are all included in the discussion of possible solutions to the Internet’s ills.

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