Free Speech at a Cocktail Party
posted by Nate Oman
Yesterday, Dan posted a commenting policy for Concurring Opinions. Such things frequently bring forth muttered imprecations of speech control and the demise of the First Amendment. Of course the mutterers understand that Concurring Opinions, despite its obvious power and influence, is not a state actor, but still it seems like a public space. Shouldn’t we encourage the marketplace of ideas to let a thousand flowers bloom (to paraphrase Holmes and Mao)? Well no, not really.
Implicit in this line of muttering is the notion that our blog ought to be thought of as a public space. It is certainly public in the sense of being widely visible. When I started blogging in 2002, I tended to think of controlling comments in terms of free speech. I did a lot of libertarian hand-wringing and soul-searching the first time I zapped a comment. I now feel no guilt. I’ve become convinced that the best blogs are not like a public forum. Rather, they are like a really good cocktail party in public. A cocktail party is not a public space, even when the cocktail party is held in public. Everyone realizes that you have the right to kick boors and party crashers out of your cocktail party. Likewise, everyone realizes that a cocktail party isn’t meant as a general invitation for the world to step up with a megaphone and spout off their opinions in your living room. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily want to actively exclude people from your cocktail party. If someone brings a friend you didn’t invite, there’s no problem so long as the friend isn’t a jerk or a dolt. Of course, Concurring Opinions is more open than most cocktail parties. You don’t need an invitation. We do, however, reserve the right to throw our drink in your face and ask you to leave if you actively disrupt the festivities.