Why is the concept of 'local community standards' difficult to apply to the Internet?
Local community standards are difficult to apply on the global medium of the Internet because Web publishers cannot limit access to their sites based on the geographic location of Internet users. For this reason several U.S. Supreme Court justices expressed their discomfort with applying local standards in determining what material is harmful to minors under the now-defunct Child Online Protection Act (COPA) in Ashcroft v. ACLU (2002).
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, for example, advocated the adoption of a “national standard for regulation for obscenity of the Internet.” Justice Stephen Breyer reasoned that COPA should be read to include a national standard. Other justices expressed concern about the notion of local community standards, as well.
I got kicked off AOL for cursing in several messages. Doesn’t that violate my free speech?
No. Online services have the right to establish and enforce codes of conduct. When you sign up, you’re using a service that belongs to a private company, and you are subject to its rules. Because the online service is a private company, its restrictions do not constitute government censorship and, therefore, do not violate the First Amendment.