Freedom of Speech in Online Game Worlds

In the real world, we’ve seen this intersection in (among other situations) US Supreme Court cases that address private speeches in cities and commercial centers by private companies. In some cases, the Supreme Court has said that certain landlords cannot prevent speakers from speaking on their private property. However, in other cases, the property rights of the landowner have prevailed over the right of the speaker to speak about the property, allowing him to “censor” the speaker.

In the online world, the speech / rights dichotomy raises equally complex questions. Private online actors routinely use their private property (such as computers and networks) to create virtual spaces designed for speech, although speaker access is generally controlled by contract. An online provider that exercises its proprietary or contractual rights inevitably overrides a speaker’s rights. But despite the ability of online providers to exercise their rights in a capricious manner, the courts have so far unanimously held that private online providers are not state actors for First Amendment purposes. In a representative case, AOL might refuse to send email messages when a spammer tried to send spam over the AOL network. In other words, in theory, the courts could do something to make providers suppress speech, but they have sided with providers because the Constitution does not apply in these cases. But how do¬† www.ufabet.com we distinguish between AOL’s response to spam (which seems correct) and the virtual world’s decision to kick a user out? In both cases, the online provider has a choice, but we are tempted to side with AOL on spam and against virtual world providers on everything else. It is that inconsistency that I am trying to address here.

The virtual world industry is flourishing. Millions of users participate in interactive spaces as complex as EverQuest, Second Life, World of Warcraft and The Sims Online. With the emergence of these “virtual worlds”, we must consider once again how we balance a customer’s speech with the rights of a virtual world provider to silence speech. To strike a balance, we must decide whether virtual worlds are more like business cities or shopping malls than the physical world, or whether they are just another category of online providers.

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