MYSpace Exiles Atheists

By Wendy Kaminer
        MYSpace has deleted the 35,000 member “Atheist and Agnostic Group” in response to complaints from people who are offended by atheism, according to a press release posted by the Secular Student Alliance.  Group Moderator Bryan Pesta stressed that the atheist and agnostic group had not violated any terms of service, adding, “when the largest Christian group was hacked, MYSpace’s founder, Tom Anderson, personally restored the group, and promised to protect it from future deletions.”
        Rupert Murdoch, who owns MySpace, is not the government: he is not constrained by constitutional strictures against religious discrimination, which include discrimination against atheists, (although he could conceivably be bound by a contract or civil statute;) and while the non-theist movement is growing and becoming more visible, it’s not exactly a market force worthy of Murdoch’s notice.  So, if he can delete atheists from his social networking site, he can delete any religious, racial, ethnic, or demographic group that he doesn’t need to cultivate.  The exiling of atheists should not be a concern for atheists alone.
        Obviously, it demonstrates the perils of encouraging people to believe that they have a right not to be offended.  I can’t think of a good reason for anyone but atheists to care that atheists have a presence on MySpace, but people are entitled to their sensibilities, however foolish they appear to me.  The trouble is, they feel entitled to impose their sensibilities on others by restricting speech; and even, or especially, our higher education system seems partly devoted to imbuing students with this anti-libertarian sense of entitlement (a trend we often decry here at thefreeforall.) 
        As this belief in the right to suppress “offensive” speech is coupled with increasingly centralized, private control of both new and old media, it poses increasing and potentially overwhelming threats to free speech.  We can stand out on street corners and preach to passers-by, but our access to venues in which we might be heard becomes dependent on the whims of Rupert Murdoch and other gazillionaires; our constitutional remedies are moot.
        De facto, marketplace censorship is not a new problem for free speech advocates.  Some hoped that it would dissipate in cyberspace, where anyone can publish virtually anything, for distibution worldwide; and the Internet remains a realm of possibility.  But obscure websites are simply the virtual equivalents of street corner leaflets, while MySpace has an estimated 70 million users.  Whose standards of offensiveness should rule them?

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