I'm writing a paper right now and need some input and ideas from all of you. Maybe it will even be a fun discussion.
My concern in this paper is the future of free speech on the Internet. Most people don't realize is that our right to free speech is enforceable only against the (American) government. (Courts have occassionally found otherwise, but these cases have been exceptional and have been disfavored in the last few decades, certainly in the last few years. Those exceptions generally include instances when there are no public spaces at all, e.g. a "company town" -- but that was a case from 1946).
Thus, to argue that we have a "right" to free speech on this very bulletin board is meaningless unless the board were owned (and possibly, depending on the direction of jurisprudence, operated) by the government.
OK, so my first proposal is that the government should take the affirmative step of providing public forums like this one, if only to guarantee that there will always be spaces on the internet where speech is no less free than it is in real life. Ideally, of course, places like this will continue to exist so that we never hit that floor... but I am a pessimist about this.
The problem, as one journal article pointed out, is that there is a substantial difference between a "general" forum (e.g. a park, or this board) and a "specific" one (e.g. the sidewalk in front of Town Hall). On the Internet, there is no direct analogy to the sidewalk.
So... my basic question is, do you agree with the assessment that the Internet has no sidewalks, no areas of immediate proximity that would provide, say, protesters with the same kind of access to listeners that real-world sidewalks do?
If not, how can government create one -- and what's more, after the fact?
More generally, is this question even framed properly? That is to say, does the analogy between real and virtual life obstruct more than it illuminates?