specter is haunting cyberspace — the specter of e-vandalism.
alarms have been loud in recent days: Electronic commerce is under siege. A
virtual crime wave threatens to wreak havoc on the World Wide Web. Any site is
vulnerable, no matter how big.
not bother to shed tears for the likes of E Trade, Amazon.com and Buy.com.
Sympathy seems misplaced for massive outfits that are blights on the Web as they
strip-mall every pixel in reach. And I can’t summon much empathy for the
targeted website run by the Time Warner subsidiary CNN, a cable giant with
millions of viewers every day.
at the same time, even when electronic attacks occur against corporate sites
with little or no socially redeeming value, I won’t cheer for cyber-saboteurs.
Efforts to censor or block communication are odious — whether based in
government offices, corporate suites or secret hacker locations. What we need is
not less but more speech: and especially more diverse speech.
officials in Washington responded feverishly as FBI anti-hacking squads moved
into action. The aggrieved firms were mostly huge players in e-commerce and mass
media, accustomed to always reaching large numbers of people. So, the
cyber-disruptions were egregious. "We are committed in every way to
tracking down those who are responsible," Attorney General Janet Reno told
a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
law enforcers are eager to catch the culprits who interfere with the
communication systems of well-capitalized enterprises. But there is no search
for clues as to why millions of Americans are excluded from big media if they
happen to be poor. What about their right to be widely heard — via TV, radio,
major print outlets or heavily trafficked websites?
muzzling of voices that lack corporate backing is so routine that we do not
expect to hear them in the first place. And no official in Washington declares a
commitment to "tracking down those who are responsible." We don’t see
any investigative units rushing to probe the constraints on the freedom of
low-income people to be heard.
it’s going to provide nutrients for the flowering of democracy, speech can’t be
bottled up. In this country, just about everyone has freedom of speech, at least
in a narrow sense. But what about freedom to be heard?
censorship is especially bad for those who live inside the nation’s jails and
prisons. As a practical matter, the nearly 2 million people behind bars in this
country rarely have direct access to the public’s eyes or ears. We don’t expect
to see them exercising their First Amendment rights on television or hear them
expressing their views on the radio, or see their websites for that matter. Yet
America’s prisoners have freedom of speech — they can always talk to the walls.
most beautiful thing in the world is freedom of speech," the Greek
philosopher Diogenes remarked about 24 centuries ago. He neglected to mention
freedom to be heard.
the here and now, theoretical assurances about freedom of speech are presumed to
suffice. Politicians mouth the requisite platitudes. Generally, we nod in
agreement or nod off in boredom.
the wrath of corporate America and government agencies, the insurgent hackers
now making headlines are living dangerously. Their slight interference with the
rights of corporations to be widely heard is a definite no-no. Too bad we
haven’t been able to summon such outrage against the social order’s continual
interference with the rights of poor people to be heard by the public.
effect, a price tag is dangling from the First Amendment. Those with deep
pockets enjoy its full freedoms in news media. Those with empty pockets are
pretty much beside the point; the constant blocking they face creates no
headlines and sparks no vows of remedial action from Washington’s movers and
shakers. Just another typical day in the media neighborhood.
law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep
under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread," the writer
Anatole France commented a century ago. Today, the media terrain offers a
similar kind of equity.