Dave Maass of the San Antonio Current writes in this week’s edition about Andy Kahan’s assault on people exercising their freedom of speech on MySpace.
Is No Myspace Sacred?
Houston’s victims-rights official appoints himself morality sheriff, deputizes FOX News to run death-row activists out of e-town.
It ain’t easy being against the death penalty. The Governor-writing, the cross-country journeys, the heartbreak and frustration, and threatening phone calls – all just to keep a human being alive. Now anti-death-penalty activists are facing the threat of their own deletion from the system.
By system, I mean Myspace.com, the social-networking site that has added a whole new layer of communication and interconnection to modern society. Two months ago, Andy Kahan, the Houston Mayor’s director of Crime-Victim Services, logged on to Myspace to hunt for villains. He struck gold: Myspace hosted profiles and blogs supposedly for serial killers Richard “Night Stalker” Ramirez and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, mass murderers Charles Manson and his female disciples Squeaky Fromme and Susan Atkins.
Myspace’s official response to Kahan and FOX’s demands was “Unless you violate the terms of service or break the law, we don’t step in the middle of free expression. There’s a lot on our site we don’t approve of in terms of taste or ideas, but it’s not our role to be censors.”
Kahan’s not going to give up. It took two years to beat eBay, he said. He told FOX he’d consider lobbying for legislation.
That may not be necessary. FOX’s parent company, News Corp., bought Myspace.com for $580 million in July 2005, and this week the company’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, gave in to pressure to cancel a two-part interview with O.J. Simpson to promote his kinda-confessional, If I Did It. Of course, in O.J.’s case, it wasn’t news so much as it was promotion and profit, since he would’ve been interviewed by his publisher at ReganBooks, an imprint of FOX’s sister publishing house, HarperCollins. Murdoch also cancelled the book’s publication.
For me, as a journalist, there’s another issue at stake. In the last year I have used Myspace as a first point of contact in about one-third of my articles, especially those involving the friends and family of death-row inmates. If Kahan’s successful, it will not only sever a vital communication link, it will set an unacceptable precedent. My concern is there will be nothing to stop Kahan from harassing internet providers until they ban anti-death-penalty websites, and it will encourage other self-appointed morality police to petition Myspace to censor anything else controversial.