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Why you don't have freedom of speech in WoW

Freedom of speech is one of the most often quoted rights by gamers and people online, yet it is sadly one of the most misunderstood. This right comes about regularly when people are discussing forum bans, moderation, and people like Ghostcrawler telling folks they need to behave. People think that just because they live in a democracy or free society that they have an innate right to do and say whatever they want wherever they want.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In a private forum, such as the official World of Warcraft forums, or on a site like WoW.com, you don't have any inherent right to do anything. The people running the site or designing the game sets the rules, and that's that. If Blizzard says all communication must end with "Ni!" or you're banned from their forums, then that's the rule you must follow. It's their property and their choice to do that.

If we say every comment must make fun of gnomes or the commenter will be banned, then that's the rule you must follow. It's our website.

Freedom of speech has absolutely no bearing within a private organization. When you accept WoW's Terms of Service or use a website like WoW.com, you agree to abide by the organization's rules. If you don't follow those rules, or if someone in the organization just wakes up on the wrong side of the bed that day, you can be prohibited from returning to the forums or playing the game.


What does the first amendment and freedom of speech affect?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It affects the government. It gives you a right to tell those in power whatever is on your mind. It even tells you that you have certain protections from government intrusions into your own life. Things like your right to establish a religion or the rights of the press. It does not give you the right to say whatever you want on privately owned websites, nor does it give you permission to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

While you might not like that Blizzard has every right to ban you, and you might not like that we have every right to delete your comment, you have no legal standing under the first amendment to demand a private organization act differently. If you don't like what a private organization like Blizzard or WoW.com does, then you can express your displeasure with your feet. You can go play a different game, you can go to a different website. Nothing is forcing you to participate in either.

For United States-based readers and players, the U.S. Supreme Court found in Loydd v. Tanner (1976) that the First Amendment does not give citizens the right to express themselves freely on private property. Such precedents exist within other legal systems as well.

Now it's in Blizzard's best interest not to go power happy and ban whomever they feel like without any reason. And it's in our best interest to allow dissent within our comments, even against our own articles. But everyone has their limits. We've seen from the explosive drama this last week over Ghostcrawler that Blizzard has limits on how far they'll allow people to express their unadulterated discontent. WoW.com has such limits too.

So, my dear readers, before going out and screaming the wails of oppression, please understand that you're not being oppressed -- in fact, everything is just fine. Your rights are your rights, but they stop at the Terms of Service.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Forums

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