America Online Boots The ACLU
Free speech simply isn't profitable

America Online is kicking the ACLU off their service. That's the word coming from moderators of AOL's ACLU area.

See also...
... by David Cassel
... in the Scope section
... from September 3, 1999

"Come the middle of November, AOL is getting rid of the entire ACLU forum," a forum leader and board moderator who goes by the name of Old Will posted yesterday. "That's our chat rooms, including the Free Speech Zone, and all our message boards, over 80 categories and nearly 2000 folders, many of which get hundreds of posts a day."

In a later post, Old Will offered his assessment of AOL's motives. "In the beginning, when everyone was paying by the hour, hourly usage was an asset. Message boards and chat were encouraged. It is message boards and chat that brought most people to AOL in the first place. When they changed to a set monthly rate, hourly usage became a liability overnight."

He continued, "I doubt it is religious or political. I suspect we are just taking up billboard space."

AOL's ACLU area still displays its traditional greeting: "Warning: Free Speech Zone Ahead." But its days on the service appear numbered. "They say they are moving us to the Net," Will's announcement warned. "That does not mean they are moving all that we have just the way it is. It means we need to find a place to go and start all over again. It simply means, 'Get out!'"

Will suggested the forum's users should archive the folders of posts before they become unavailable -- and promised more personal commentary later. Furor is already building. In the 24 hours since Old Will's post, it has received over 400 responses.

"AOL is once again showing it's nothing more than a spoiled, control freak, little brat," one poster opined.

"Why bother with AOL if they don't care about their users?" said another.

"I've been a member of AOL for over four years now," a third noted. "But in November, if you remove these boards, I will drop your services."

In any case, the situation is out of the hands of the ACLU moderators. "There is nothing I or anyone with more authority or better contacts with AOL can do about it," Old Will wrote. "All the arguing with AOL is over. It's their playground, and we are out."

His words dripping with anger and sarcasm, Old Will advised angry users to "write to screen name Steve Case, Lord Protector of Free Speech in the Realm of America Online and Editor in Chief of the AOL Daily Shopping News. He loves to hear from you. He really really cares what you have to say."

See also: AOL and ACLU's Troubled Relationship

David Cassel is the editor of the AOL Watch newsletter.