Freedom of Speech and its limits

Recently some internet sites have been pumping out news and opinions reporting the reaction to Goodreads cracking down on those few who victimized authors with the goal of destroying reputations and careers in publishing. Some of the comments in this debate are angry; some are celebrating, and some are waiting to see if these changes are real.

I’m not going to go into detail about this issue. Instead, I want to look closely at freedom of speech and its limitations.

Do sites such as Goodreads and Amazon have a right to define limits to freedom of expression on their private sector internet sites? The answer is yes as you will discover.

The Limitations of Free Speech

If you read the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution carefully [it is short and to the point], you will discover that it was clearly meant to protect the opinions of American citizens from government harassment and persecution and in no way does freedom of speech mean you can say or write anything you want anywhere at any time without fear of censorship.

For example, Censorship in says, “For much of the nation’s history, the First Amendment was not held to apply to states and municipalities.  Entities without any prohibition in their own charters [in the private sector these charters are known as terms of use] were free to censor newspaper, magazines books, plays, movies, comedy shows and so on. Many did, as exemplified by the phrase banned in Boston.”

It wasn’t until the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren [he served as Chief Justice 1953 – 1969] that the 1st Amendment was extended to local government—with no mention that freedom of expression in the private sector was protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Shaw says, “Federal free speech protections apply only to the government. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for example, does not regulate private employers.”

North Iowa says, “A private-sector employer has a lot of latitude as to what’s permitted or not with respect to political speech, or pushing any view for that matter.”

The Consensus of the Public

In conclusion, “The [U.S. Supreme] Court has also decided that the First Amendment provides less than full protection to commercial speech, defamation (libel and slander), speech that may be harmful to children, speech broadcast on radio and television, and public employees’ speech. … Furthermore, even speech that enjoys the most extensive First Amendment protection may be restricted on the basis of its content if the restriction passes strict scrutiny.”

Even international law says, “Freedomofexpression is not absolute and every system of law provides for some limitations on it: For respect of the rights or reputations of others; for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals. This means that it is permissible to think the most evil and depraved thoughts, although giving expression to them may legitimately warrant a sanction.” Source: Centre for Law and Democracy

For sites such as Goodreads and Amazon, those restrictions are spelled out in their Terms of Use Agreements and these private sector businesses reserve the right to change the Terms of Use at any time.

Goodreads concludes its Terms of Use with “IMPORTANT: These Terms & Conditions of Service for Goodreads Services (“Agreement”) is a legal agreement between you and Goodreads Inc. By using or accepting the Services, you agree to be bound by the terms of this Agreement. If you do not agree to the Terms of this Agreement, do not use these Services. You agree that your use of the services acknowledges that you have read this Agreement, understand it, and agree to be bound by its Terms and Conditions.” For more details about the Goodreads Terms of Use, I suggest you click on the link and read them.

And if you go to Amazon’s Terms of Use, and you will discover, “Visitors may post reviews, comments and other content; and submit suggestions, ideas, comments, questions, or other information, so long as the content is not illegal, obscene, threatening, defamatory, invasive of privacy, infringing of intellectual property rights, or otherwise injurious to third parties or objectionable and does not consist of or contain software viruses, political campaigning, commercial solicitation, chain letters, mass mailings, or any form of ‘spam.’ You may not use a false e-mail address, impersonate any person or entity, or otherwise mislead as to the origin of a card or other content. AWS reserves the right (but not the obligation) to remove or edit such content, but does not regularly review posted content.”


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran and English-journalism teacher.

His latest novel is the award winning Running with the Enemy that started life as a memoir and then became a fictional suspense thriller. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

5 thoughts on “Freedom of Speech and its limits

  1. Pingback: Freedom of expression | SA Resident Guide

  2. Excellent, detailed post, Lloyd. Most people (or trolls) who were born just yesterday are not aware of any of this. Might be why they think they have the right to spread “whatever…” Uninformed is… another word for ignorant. I’ve posted a link back and tweeted this out.

    • Thank you. As you said, born yesterday. I ran into this same attitude in the classroom when I was still teaching. Every year there were kids who felt they could say anything they wanted because of their misconceptions about freedom of speech. The word freedom has been misused in the United States.

      Freedom doesn’t mean you can say or do anything you want but some people believe it does mean that. Maybe that’s why the United States has more people in prison than any other country in the world. Because there are too many people born yesterday who just don’t get it.

      There’s an old saying that ignorance is bliss but I think that’s wrong. I think acting or speaking out of ignorance leads to embarrassment and an emotional roller coaster when someone wakes up and realizes they have been acting like a fool.

      But then some of those same people will refuse to wake up and accept the facts as they are, and they will live in denial and sometimes end up on street corners ranting about the end of the world.

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