Free Speech on the 'net

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Free Speech on the 'net

Date: Tue, 14 Dec 1993 01:17:56 -0800
Mime-Version: 1.0
To: (Michael 'Mickey' Sattler)
Subject: Free speech, cross-posting, and net.bozos

X-Distribution-Policy: re-distribute freely; attribute appropriately.

Date: Sun, 3 Oct 1993 22:23:24 -0700 To: Lord of All Fevers and Plague (CBLANC@POMONA.CLAREMONT.EDU), root@POMONA.CLAREMONT.EDU, postmaster@POMONA.CLAREMONT.EDU, sysadmin@POMONA.CLAREMONT.EDU, From: (Michael 'Mickey' Sattler) Subject: Free speech, cross-posting, and net.bozos

Thanks Sven. I'm not in the habit of running after every immature person who has a problem with what someone else posts, but since we've been batting this around for a while with andy.rose mis-posting to alt.wired and someone having problems with Oded's humor on alt.personals, I figured it was worth a few bits. The magnificent response from the postmaster of MIT's Artifical Intelligence Labs gave me the strength to follow up on this:

>From:   IN%"  3-OCT-1993 07:29:03.49
>Listen twit, if you persist in cross posting to irrelated newsgroups,
>I'll go after your account via your .edu site admin. I'm from a
>commercial service and don't have to worry about the NSFnet policies that
>you do. Do you know those policies? I didn't think so, so clam up little boy. (Sgt. Mayhem) continues to have problems playing with the other children. He's loud, causic, and hits the smaller boys. He's not typical of USENET posters, but he represents a problem to those of us who are trying to build a planetary

In an electronic world, where it's very easy to reply to someone, far too often we see attempts to gag other's speech. I'm aware of several different ways of dealing with postings you have a problem with:

learning how to use a kill file to filter out postings from or about the offensive (to you) poster.

This is the preferred method. It allows you to not see what bothers you, and it allows others to speak freely. This is only accepted by persons secure enough about themselves not to need to try and squelch others.

ignoring the person's postings and (via email) asking other posters who respond to the flame-bait to ignore them as well

This is the next-best option. If you cannot filter what irks you, ignore it. If the noise is so wide-spread that you just can't kill it all, ask posters who continue the flame thread to stop in order to return to the subjects at hand. We have a news-group dedicated for flaming and flamers: alt.flame. I have used this tactic at times, and it works well. Obnoxious posters provide flame-bait to get attention; don't give them any and they go away and try elsewhere.

adding to the noise by flaming the poster(s) on the news-group

Even less desireable, this makes you look like an intolerant fool, undercuts your future credibility, wastes other readers time, derails further the discussion of the news-group subject, and in considered making a nuisance of oneself.

attempting to squelch free speech by pleading to system postmasters

>From:   IN%""  "Sgt. Mayhem"  3-OCT-1993 12:02:40.41
>This user is generating offensive messages from your site to my
>account. Please comply with NFSnet policy with regards to this user
>before your site is reported.

This is the least desirable option for a variety of reasons, some of which I'll go into. Remember, that there are two different kinds of "offensive" mail you may be getting: (a) views that you do not agree with, perhaps about controversial subjects, and (b) harrasing, credibly threatening mail.

The latter is to be dealt with by civil and criminal authorities. If you REALLY feel you are in physical danger file a complaint and take care of yourself. This includes asking your lawyer to help with libel complaints.

The following are about the former, views you disagree with:

  1. system administrators and postmasters have better things to do than hear that you can't play well with others. These are busy people, providing a service to their computing community. They are not your mother, father, therapist, religous leader, or teddy-bear.

  2. the state of laws in the United States favors the unfettered ability to speak freely and so hampers the postmaster's ability to remove someone from a system for saying something you don't like. This is true in spite of any sort of local policy or disclaimer; you cannot sign away your constitutional rights by signing a paper. They can't throw someone off because you don't like what they say, no matter HOW controversial, inciting, racist, sexist, etc. That's what allows you to say things that others disagree with. They can't do it, so don't bother asking them.

The remainder of this post is the wonderful response of a postmaster who understands the concepts of freedom of speech, etc., and who applies them in his day-to-day administration. If you've read this far I suspect you're part of the choir I'm preaching to, but on the off chance you're not, perhaps you'll see how tolerance (and kill files) can be applied to return balance and happiness to your life.

From: (Michael 'Mickey' Sattler)
Subject: Re: Oded Feingold's BOMB THREATS
Organization: Digital Jungle
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 1993 18:58:42 GMT

It pains me to see that the two of you (excerpts are provided at the end of this message) don't have a clue about the Bill or Rights,etc. Please read them immediately. Enclosed is the reply I got from the sysop of the system that Oded uses; thank kibo that he's got more of a clue than you two do. May you be banished to Prodigy for your small-minded attempts to squelch something that you don't agree with. Luddites.

---------- reply from the enlightened sysop ----------

Date: Fri, 1 Oct 93 14:30:38 -0400
From: Nick Papadakis (
Subject: Oded Feingold (
X-Address: MIT AI Lab, NE43-438, 545 Technology Square, Cambridge, MA 02139
X-Switzerland: Neutral -- but heavily armed.

> A few net.goofballs have targeted the postmaster at zurich to complain > about Oded's witty reparte. Just to warn you. Some of us enjoy his > contributions.

Thanks for the warning; we've seen it already. Rest assured that no one here is going to go nonlinear over this sort of thing. Frankly, I didn't bother to reply. I just barely managed to bother to *read* it.

For a good summary of my attitude, take a look at page 58 of The Mac Internet Tour Guide, in the little box under "Dear Sysadmin, punish your user for what he said!" The quote there that begins "I believe you need a short lesson in the operation of free speech", is in fact mine, though unattributed. It ends: "if these posting offend you, I suggest you find out how kill files work, instead of wasting the time of overworked system administrators who aren't being underpaid to deal with this sort of childishness."


- nick

---------- excerpts from net.bozos ------------ wrote:
: >Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1993 16:19:18 UTC
: >From:
: >Subject: Re: The internet is NOT for sending BOMB THREATS (long
: >X-Anonymously-To: an37771
: >Organization: Anonymous contact service
: >
: >Hi!
: >THANKS for your response to Feingold! Idiots like this obviously don't
: >understand the current fragility of our internet freedom...this is the
: >[boring, tedious dweebosity deleted]
: >
: >Michael Acklin
: >Research Analyst
: >University of Arkansas
: >
: Oded Feingold's real address is ( His?/her?
: (Feingold's) system admin can be reached by sending mail to
: (

>- sven x (not really wanting to deal with this on a sunday morning)

Me neither, but keeping a tolerant and enjoyable is worth a few minutes time. I hope this helps. All my best, Michael.

Michael S. Sattler         +1 (415) ***.****
Digital Jungle Software    Encrypt now; ask me how.   (finger for PGP key)
               All that is required for evil to triumph is
                for {wo}men of good will to do nothing.

Have you found errors nontrivial or marginal, factual, analytical and illogical, arithmetical, temporal, or even typographical? Please let me know; drop me email. Thanks!

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