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February 22, 2005
Students use blogs to practice their First Amendment rights online
By Jerret Raffety
Carlson School of Management student Wes Strait said he was originally looking for a space on the Internet to write about his life to keep his family and friends updated.
Strait, a junior, is one of many University students who use Web logs, known as blogs, to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Though students are free to publish, they must also be responsible for the content.
“My blog is just kind of my own little space on the Web,” Strait said.
It was after he began receiving feedback from the people in his life, through posted comments and in-person conversations, that he realized his writings posted on the blog were very public, he said.
Soon after, Strait’s roommate began collaborating with him on the blog, and they renamed it after their shared initials. Now, four years later, Strait’s blog hosts 10 active writers and has had several others through the years, he said.
As a blog operator, Strait said, he must ensure entries aren’t libelous. Libelous statements are those that put a person in a negative light with community members.
“I allow people (who write on my blog) to be frank, but I reserve the right to censor anything that is libel,” Strait said.
But Strait said he doesn’t worry about being sued.
“In order to get sued, you have to make someone really angry or do something illegal,” Strait said.
To avoid angering his posting friends or the public, Strait said, he uses a private post for anything he deems risky.
A private post means only people who write the blog can access the entries, Strait said.
An increasing number of students use this freedom through a University-sponsored blogging service known as UThink, said Shane Nackerud, Web services coordinator for the University Libraries.
The program, which began in April, provides free blogs to current University students, staff and faculty members, Nackerud said. Currently, UThink maintains 1,047 blogs, which is slightly more than he projected for this time, he said.
But the service has performed extremely well for the number of blogs it hosts, Nackerud said.
There is no regulation of the content from the University Libraries, he said.
“The University Libraries is a traditional defender of intellectual and academic freedom on campus, and we take this responsibility very seriously,” Nackerud said.
There must be a balance between freedom and personal responsibility, he said.
Specifically, the University’s Student Conduct Code says, “The University requires a community free from violence, threats and intimidation; protective of free inquiry; respectful of the rights of others.”
The University Libraries must adhere to all University policies, Nackerud said.
UThink also has guidelines available on its Web page that address slander, hate speech, harassment and other speech that can cause lawsuits for Web authors.
Lawsuits are deterrents that prevent many from publishing whatever they wish online in the United States, said Jane Kirtley, a professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“The core of the issue is that Internet speech is protected to the same degree as the print media, which is protected to highest extent of the law,” Kirtley said.
Many publications have their own internal standards that remove material considered inappropriate by that publication, she said. This is why it might seem that there is less censorship on the Internet than in many magazines and newspapers, Kirtley said.
There are no regulatory bodies that can censor the content of Internet sites or speech in the United States at this time, she said.
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