So far, at least, the U.S. government has yet to appoint a chief censor. But Silicon Valley’s coastal elites have been eager to volunteer their services gratis.
The last year has marked a dispiriting new low in the “deplatforming,” or banning from various online channels, of dissident voices. The ax fell on Infowars’ Alex Jones, actor James Woods, the editorial director of AntiWar.com, the director of the Ron Paul Institute, and radio talk show host Jesse Kelly. (Some of these accounts have since been reinstated.)
Lawmakers have encouraged these social media bans. Congressional hearings have been called to interrogate tech execs on how their products are being used. Last August, Sen. Chris Murphy (D–Conn.) urged an even broader crackdown, proclaiming on Twitter that “the survival of our democracy depends on it.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D–Miss.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, must have been listening. In March, Thompson sent a letter to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Microsoft insisting that they remove “toxic and violent” content, even if it is legal to distribute in the United States. (The platforms already prohibit illegal content.) If the companies are “unwilling” to do so voluntarily, Thompson warned, Congress will “consider policies” to compel their cooperation. Left unexplained was how any such requirement could comply with the First Amendment.
In April , legislation was introduced that would empower the [Singapore] government to demand that sites take down stories deemed—by the state—to be “fake news.” Officials would also be able to force social media sites such as Facebook to include “warnings” on posts declared false. Resisting these orders and maligning the government could earn a person or company fines of up to $740,000 and potentially incarceration.
Representatives of the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry association of leading internet companies including Facebook, Google, and Twitter, warned that the bill “gives the Singapore government full discretion over what is true or false.” The group calls the plan an “overreach” that “poses significant risks to freedom of expression and speech, and could have severe ramifications both in Singapore and around the world.”
In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law that allows government officials to charge individuals and online media for spreading fake news or information that insults state symbols or officials. As in Singapore, violators face fines and potentially jail time.
When critics yelled “censorship” at the Russian government, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed out that this area of “fake news” is “under strict regulation in many countries of the world, even in European states.”
Last November, at the urging of President Emmanuel Macron, the French parliament passed a law allowing judges to order the removal of what they deem “fake news” during the three months before an election. It also gave the country’s national broadcasting agency the authority to suspend foreign television channels that distribute allegedly false information that might affect a French election. State-run Russia Today interpreted that part of the law as explicitly targeting itself and complained about the censorship. Then Russia put into place even harsher laws.
That France, Russia, and Singapore are all on the same page is a stark reminder that governments almost universally want to stop the distribution of some political messages while mandating the distribution of others.
A third component of Macron’s policy recently bit the French government on the derriere. The country now requires media companies to disclose who paid for political advertisements and to maintain a database showing who is responsible for sponsored political messages being promoted through their platforms. Rather than deal with these new obligations, Twitter stopped accepting political advertisements in France altogether. As a result, the company decided in April it would not run government ads encouraging citizens to vote in May elections for the European Parliament.
I’m sure that the current POTUS is seeing these developments around the globe and thinking, “I want that!”.
Chris, while I do not like that Facebook appears to be blocking or removing your content, in all fairness, it’s their platform and they set the rules. I am not surprised by this.
This is just another excellent example of why one shouldn’t trust third parties over which you have no control to publish your content on the web.
Guest to my home can no more claim censorship if I ask them from refraining to discuss a topic or ask them to leave because they say things I don’t like.
Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash