Free Republic

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Free Republic, or "FR," is an American Internet forum and activist organization for American arch-conservatives<ref> name="Tossell">Tossell, Ivor. "Free Republic: glass ant farm for zealots" The Globe And Mail, 20 October 2006.</ref> . It presents articles and discussion posted anonymously by registered members using screen names-- though "discussion" might be the wrong word. More often, it's a kind of pantomime, where the name of the game is to cheer the good guy and boo the bad guy every time he creeps on stage.

Freepers, as the sites denizens are known, are the good guys. The bad guys, according to site founder Jim Robinson, are practitioners of "liberalism, socialism, fascism, pacifism, totalitarianism, anarchism, government enforced atheism, abortionism, feminism, homosexualism, racism," and "wacko environmentalism."

So it is that, day in and day out, Freepers attempt to outdo each other in posting the most pungent, juvenile reactions to stories. Articles containing an opposing viewpoint have the words "BARF ALERT" appended to their titles. Slurs are encouraged.<ref name="Tossell">Tossell, Ivor. "Free Republic: glass ant farm for zealots" The Globe And Mail, 20 October 2006.</ref>


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Contents

Origins

Image:MFJII 02.jpg
Sparse turnout for the official March for Justice II rally at the Upper Senate Park on the U.S. Capitol grounds on Thursday, April 7, 2005.

Free Republic was founded in 1996 by Jim Robinson of California as a discussion site during the presidency of Bill Clinton. Members would copy articles from other news sources and then the community would discuss them. The group first came to prominence during the Clinton impeachment controversy when protests and write-in campaigns were organized. The group also played an important role in the controversy over the disputed presidential election of 2000 where it again organized protests, including the creation of "Sore/Loserman" signs — an allusion to Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. The group has also played a role in organizing demonstrations supporting the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.

Board users

There is no membership structure, or regional chiefs. Users of the board ("Freepers") organize local gatherings on the various message boards. There is a member directory, but like most internet forums, nearly everyone has a pseudonym and few people divulge their true identity in their online profiles. All members are afforded a mail service that allows them to send, receive and store private messages to each other. Many also inform other members about certain interest areas on "ping lists," lists of users interested in a certain subject that are alerted to ongoing discussions on that topic.

Discussion

Since the right-of-center in American politics is not uniform in all its beliefs, the posters on Free Republic are not uniform in their beliefs either. However, the community is largely, but not exclusively, united on certain issues, including being against gun control and abortion, having a strong dislike for Bill and Hillary Clinton, being against the formation of a Palestinian state, and against affirmative action and gay marriage [1]. On some issues the readership is quite divided. Three main groups can be observed: The Republican stalwarts, who are very pro-Bush and the Republican Party; the Christian conservatives; and the staunch libertarians.

Divisive issues include evolution, free trade, and the legalization of soft drugs; although the organization has an official policy of not permitting racism, some posts clearly show it. Examples include calling Palestinian children "bombs still growing" (a reference to suicide bombing), racial references in the song parody Crying (Frying Abu-Jamal) [2], and frequent references to the French as "weasels" [3]; however, many posters receive suspensions or even bans for posting material considered racist. The moderators often remove or ban posters who criticize Israel, the invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan war, etc., from its discussion boards. Material that criticizes the administration of George W. Bush is typically not permitted, and posts which do are quickly censored and the member banned. Some topics may be broached by older members but are forbidden to newcomers.

The web-site does not seek to be a board that represents all political viewpoints: it is a meeting point for those to the far-right of the political center in America, and articles posted which contain unwelcome (usually liberal) views are customarily ridiculed and tagged with the words BARF ALERT after the headline, a feature meant to warn the reader in advance of an opinion running counter to the prevailing perspective of the site's intended audience. Freepers are often called to vote en masse in off-site online polls, and there is a daily prayer for Bush.

Free Republic posters, notably "TankerKC" (later identified as active Air Force officer Paul Boley)<ref name="Pein">Pein, Corey. "Blog-Gate." Columbia Journalism Review, January/February 2005.</ref><ref>http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1210516/posts?page=107#107</ref> and "Buckhead" (later identified as Atlanta GOP lawyer Harry W. MacDougald)<ref name="Wallsten">Wallsten, Peter. "Blogger alleging CBS memos as frauds is GOP lawyer." Los Angeles Times, 18 September 2004.</ref> were among the first ripples, along with members of the blogs Powerline and Little Green Footballs, to the tidal wave of criticism that became "Memogate", the controversy surrounding CBS News' use of allegedly forged documents during the 2004 US presidential campaign.<ref>[4] Pein, supra.</ref>

Mr. MacDougald may be the first Internet ripple in that tidal wave of criticism. In a post<ref>http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1210662/posts?page=47#47</ref> on Free Republic the night of the broadcast, he singled out the memos' proportional spacing and made the claim that such printing was "not widespread until the mid to late 90's" <ref>[5]</ref>. His posting spurred discussion spread across the Internet via blogs (attributing the Power Line blog, which credited reader Liz MacDougald with pointing to the "Buckhead" post within minutes of its posting at FreeRepublic. Power Line immediately pointed out that the Executive line of IBM typewriters did have proportionally spaced fonts.<ref>http://powerlineblog.com/archives/007760.php</ref>). Right or wrong, the Associated Press covered the controversy.<ref name="Dobbs">Dobbs, Michael, and Allen, Mike. "Some Question Authenticity of Papers on Bush." The Washington Post, September 10, 2004.</ref> The Investigative Panel "was not able to reach a definitive conclusion" on the documents' authenticity. The unresolved controversy resulted in the early retirement of Dan Rather, and the resignations of Mary Mapes and three other news division executives at CBS. According to Ivor Tossell of the Globe and Mail, Free Republic "was central to the network of websites that uncovered the forged memos about Bush's Vietnam service that appeared on CBS News and ultimately cost Dan Rather his job."<ref name="Tossell">Tossell, Ivor. "Free Republic: glass ant farm for zealots" The Globe And Mail, 20 October 2006.</ref> The Columbia Journalism Review concluded "But on close examination the scene looks less like a victory for democracy than a case of mob rule."<ref>[6] Pein, supra.</ref>


Moderation in the pursuit of justice

From 1996-2000, the bulletin board was virtually unmoderated. This policy was central to the website's Fair Use defense in the Copyright Infringement litigation, wherein it stated "(t)he website operated by the defendants, www.freerepublic.com, permits anyone who wishes to post news articles or other items and to post commentary about the article as well ... no censorship is made and all views are permitted."<ref>[7]</ref>

Salon.com's Jeff Stein observed in 1999 that: "[A] swelling number of haters have turned up the volume of death threats, gay-bashing, name-calling and conspiracy theories tying the father of Republican front-runner George W. Bush to drug-dealing by the CIA."<ref>{{

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}}</ref> Robinson "famously blasted George W. Bush's presidential candidacy back in 2000, before a dramatic late-campaign about-face that saw him emerge as one of the GOP ticket's biggest supporters."<ref name="observer">[8]</ref> These shifts in moderation signalled internal battles comparable to the nomination controversies of 2007 "as its founder and chief administrator first cleansed commenting ranks of Bush supporters, then, later, rallied to his support."<ref name="observer"/>

Free Republic had been criticized during the pre-moderation period for the actions of a few of its members. In 1999, after FReepers heard that Julie Hiatt Steele, the woman charged with obstruction of justice by Kenneth Starr during President Clinton's impeachment trial, was taking credit-card donations to help pay her legal bills, they flooded her Web site with fake donations. Hundreds of "donations" listing fake credit-card numbers (a form of wire fraud) ended up costing Steele around $4,000, since she had to pay her e-commerce service company 25 to 35 cents to process each one.<ref>[9]</ref> Some threatened to assassinate former President Bill Clinton, like this from February 2001: "If he keeps on he's going to make me come up there. There is only one solution to the Klintons, two 45 rounds and a nice little spot in Marcy Park." <ref>[10]</ref>.

When the bar manager of an Austin restaurant called 911 to notify authorities that an underage Jenna Bush had attempted to purchase liquor in June 2001, her personal information including her home address, date of birth, driver's license number and physical description was posted on FreeRepublic, along with calls for punitive action.<ref>[11]</ref>

The Clinton threat and some of the bar manager's personal information were moderated by Robinson when brought to his attention, and the authors' posting privileges were revoked. He said that the site had had to "delete relatively few posts" over time for violations of its "no-violence" policy despite Free Republic's popularity and ease of registration.<ref>{{

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Free Republic has subsequently developed an official policy which allows authorized moderators to remove postings identified as blatantly violent, racist or bigoted.<ref>Freerepublic.com - Registration Registration and User Agreement</ref><ref>Freerepublic.com Help (Guidelines)</ref>. Postings deemed to support "liberal" points of view may also be "moderated" per official policy, expressed in 2004 by the owner as: "we feel no compelling need to allow [liberals] a platform to promote their repugnant and obnoxious propaganda from our forum. Free Republic is not a liberal debating society."<ref>[12]</ref> The owner reserves the right to revoke posting privileges and exclude any individual without recourse.{{#if:||{{#if:Category:Articles with unsourced statements|[[Category:Articles with unsourced statements {{#if:January 2008|{{#if:|from|since}} January 2008}}]]}}}}{{#if:citation needed|[citation needed]|}}{{#switch:||Template|Talk={{#if:January 2008|{{#ifexist:Category:Articles with unsourced statements since January 2008||}}|}}}}

During the 2004 U.S. Elections, Jerome Corsi, a Swift Boat Vet and co-author of the book Unfit for Command that attacked the Vietnam war record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, apologized in the national media for comments that he made on Free Republic under the user name "jrlc" "describing Muslims and Catholics as pedophiles and Pope John Paul II as senile."<ref>Anti-Kerry book author sorry for slurs USA Today. 8/10/2004</ref> The posts were never moderated and were discovered and publicized by Media Matters for America.<ref>[13]</ref>.

In 2007, moderators removed the posting privileges of many members who supported the presidential campaign of current Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani. The New York Observer reported:

     Starting in April 2007 ... members sympathetic to the former mayor's candidacy claim to have suffered banishment from the site. They were victimized, they say, by a wave of purges designed to weed out any remaining support for the Giuliani campaign... <ref>[14]</ref>

Sean Scallon of Chronicles magazine referred to the effects of moderation: "[Before moderation was introduced in 2000] Leftists began to infiltrate the site, posting articles or posing as conservatives to act as agents provocateurs. . . Robinson decided to clean up his website and, like any good sheriff, deputized a posse of site moderators to remove offensive posts, threads, and articles and to ban those who posted them. But they did not stop there. Soon, they had banned the posting of any articles from certain websites that they deemed taboo . . . It would be easy to conclude that Robinson and his monitors simply went overboard in an effort to clean up the excesses of Free Republic . . . With so many posters banned, the diversitv of thought on Free Republic has been reduced to the musings of neoconservatives, Zionists, Republicans who act is if Free Republic were an annex of GOP headquarters, those who consider George W. Bush a demigod and offer daily prayers to him, and other sycophants and cheerleaders . . . Many banned Freepers have turned to [other] sites . . . where members can post articles from anywhere and comment without interference from the thought police or fear of Siberian banishment" <ref>[15] Scallon, supra.</ref> But In July 2007, conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly supported the idea that the website is still undermoderated. On an edition of the O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly interviewed Free Republic spokesman Kristinn Taylor. Bill O'Reilly remarked that the postings on the website were "vile" and "hateful", besmirching the Christian values of the Republican Party. O'Reilly said to Taylor that Free Republic had "some pretty sick people posting" and gave examples of racist and homophobic postings, as well as a post inciting the murder of Hillary Clinton. Taylor argued that it is only down to poor moderation that these posts exist. <ref>[16]Media Matters</ref> O'Reilly conceded: "But you're right, a lot of it's planted. And a lot of it is just crazy people who are surfing. But I believe you have an obligation, Mr. Taylor, to clean this thing up." <ref>http://mediamatters.org/items/200708010014 The O'Reilly Factor July 31, 2007</ref>

Manipulating polls

The manipulation of polls, which is not unique to the FR community, has not been without controversy. Online polls are not always representative of the population at large. Self-selected polls rarely are representative, as only activists will go and vote.

In some cases, Freepers merely try to convince as many other Freepers as possible to vote. It is likely that most Freepers would not have voted in these polls if they were not mentioned on FR. Many of the polls that Freepers urge to "freep" are local television or newspaper websites.

Typically, online polls try to prevent multiple votes from the same user, by using cookies or not allowing multiple votes from the same IP address. Some online polls today even block votes that are referred from the same Web page (like, for example, Free Republic). There are ways around these things, but they require at least better than average computer expertise and are somewhat time consuming. Most polls that are manipulated simply have a large number of people from one group voting once, and this certainly skews results for local papers or other media much more so than for national sites. Many online polls have since become much more adept at preventing massive ballot stuffing, though it cannot be totally eliminated

It has been observed that the group has borrowed many of its behaviors from traditionally leftist organizations. The mass demonstrations are one example. The organization of boycotts, such as that against France over the Iraq crisis, is another. The group is funded through quarterly donations drives which resemble those of PBS. The Web site does not charge a regular usage fee.

Lawsuit and settlement

Because it has been a practice of its users to copy and paste copyrighted news stories in their entirety to its discussion boards, FreeRepublic was sued by The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. (Reuters and The Wall Street Journal were part of the original consortium threatening legal action, but they dropped out before the lawsuit was filed.) Many members view the lawsuit as an unsuccessful conspiracy by the "leftist media" (there is no such leftist media) to stifle the organization; founder Robinson referred to the suit as "a life and death struggle with elements of the socialist propaganda machine."

In a negotiated settlement, FR agreed to remove the posted articles, and paid these two newspapers $5,000 each. Neither party was awarded any damages, legal fees or costs. Today, other publishers, such as Condé Nast, have joined The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times in objecting to the posting of entire copyrighted articles. Users now post excerpts from such publishers (as fair use), and the site filters submissions against a watchlist of "banned" sources, by request of their webmaster or as a result of the lawsuit, as a precaution against future lawsuits.


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