[MUD-Dev] Free Speech

Jeff Freeman SkeptAck at antisocial.com
Sun May 21 19:24:32 CEST 2000

I just received this email from a player (references to WoD, that's us).
This was in response to a couple of things:  Players in one case at the the
main bank in the game - about as common an area as they get - and in the
second case in the tavern across the street from the bank.  In the first
case, the players were engaging in tinysex, or so close to it that other
players complained.  We asked them to go somewhere more private for that
sort of thing.  In the second case, the players were in the tavern across
the street from the bank comparing their local illegal drug prices.  We also
asked those players not to do that there.  I don't even know how to respond
to this.  Mind, we ARE a private MUD.  When we accept new users, they apply
and only after their application is accepted are they allowed online.  This
is baffling.

I know, I know, "Search the MUD-Dev archives for 'Free & Speech & Newbie &

Anyway... comments?  I'd tell him I reserve the right to ban people for
ticking me off, but somehow I don't think he'll accept that.

Text of an Email from Player "Rykus":

I know I will take a lot of heat for this....BUT I think this needs to be
understood by both Admin and players.

While this is a private shard....the U.S. Supreme Court for the last 50
years has consistantly ruled that the "ownership" (public v. private) of a
"Forum" (place where communications/statements are made) is not the
determining factor concerning the First Amendment Rights of those
within/using the forum.  It is rather the "nature" of the forum and whether
it appears to contain more or less of the traditional and historical
elements of a "public forum" where one's right to speak on any and every
subject can not be content restricted.  The court house steps, the downtown
sidewalk, the municipal park....all of these are examples of traditional
public forums.  In Marsh v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme court examined the
rights of a Morman woman who was arrested by the police for prosteletizing
on a "wholly privately owned mining town".  This "private" town had all of
the halmarks of any other municipality.  It had a post office, stores,
restaruant, etc.  While all of the town, land, buildings, and businesses
were wholly owned by the company, the court found that it performed the
function of a public municipality , and therefor, she had every right to
stand on the street corner and say whatever she wanted to whomever passed or
decided to listen.

The theory of this hallmark case, was later expanded in a litany of both
Federal and state cases across the country.  Ever wonder why Malls can't
stop protestors: (Pruneyard Shopping Center case found that malls serve
shopping and socialization function of historic downtown areas, and were
therefor "nontraditional public forums").  Ever wonder why every Walmart has
signs asking you not to respond to solicitors on the outside of their
stores....rather than just banning them?

To be honest, there is little case law on first amendment rights on the
internet, let alone concerning muds or UO type games.  The little that has
occured has been concerning AOL, ISP's, Prodigy and the like concerning
their 1) right to control content of user's speach, 2) their liability for
the content.  The clear holding in every case to date has been that these
forums are  "nontraditional public forums".  The company therefor has no
right or legal justification to censor the content of a user's speach to
another.  Given this, they are also not liable/responsible for what
communications occur. The only exception to this rule is where the "owner"
has by contract agreed to protect users from harassement, and then
negligently does not enforce its own rules.

I am aware of several other players who have been warned about the content
of their speach to date, but since there was no real threat of retaliation
from admin, I did not see a need to bring up this rather touchy subject.
Given that we talk of WoD as a "community", it is modeled upon a "town"
structure, we have venders, we have "town meetings", we have real life
gatherings of players, we have relationships, marriages, and friendships who
all gather here to communicate.  If AOL and Prodigy can not control the
content of user's speach, then I do not see how any court would allow WoD
admin to.

That being said, the law makes each of us liable for what we say and do.  If
people are stupid enough to talk about breaking the law in any kind of a
public forum....then that is their choice.  I do not understand the position
of Admin concerning their apparent desire to censor the content of players
speach.  While Admin certainly has a right to set "content neutral" rules
designed to stop harrassment of individuals and the like....I am very
confident that legally, they have no right to restrict the content of speach
between consenting players.

Should Admin move to ban or in some other way punish players for the content
of their speach, then they run the risk of litigation, and civil liability.
While I understand the reaction to this may be...hey...no one is willing to
go so far...or if they do, we will just pull the plug... The real issue
should be...even in this pretend world, why do we want, and how do we feel
justified in trying to tell others what subjects can and can't be discussed.
If some hidden person says they did not like what Rykus was saying...Is that
enough...If I said that young women under the age of 18 should be able to
obtain legal abortions, (Is that enough), if I said I would kill any women
or doctor who tried to abort a child of mine, (is that enough)....where do
you draw the line?  Who gets to decide? How do you adequately disclose these
dos and don'ts...acceptable subjects and banned ones to the players.  Do you
have a list of OK subjects and all others are banned...do you do the

The simple solution is to not try and play the thought and speach police.
Each situation needs to be handled on its own.  If someone is forcing
unwanted subjects/issues on another...that is harrassment.  But if two or
more players want to discuss a topic....that should be a decision for them
to make...not you, and not I.  This is not a humble or other opinion....Free
Speach is the law of the land.  If you are so concerned about players
breaking the law...then it should be incumbent upon Admin to make sure they
are not.

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