EFF published an article earlier today detailing the U.S. government’s growing demand that Twitter shut down accounts that are affiliated with alleged terrorists. Citing several recent incidences in which government officials have pressured Twitter to censor tweets and accounts, EFF applauds Twitter’s resistance to comply with the demands:
Twitter is right to resist. If the U.S. were to pressure Twitter to censor tweets by organizations it opposes, even those on the terrorist lists, it would join the ranks of countries like India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Syria, Uzbekistan, all of which have censored online speech in the name of “national security.” And it would be even worse if Twitter were to undertake its own censorship regime, which would have to be based upon its own investigations or relying on the investigations of others that certain account holders were, in fact, terrorists.
The government has been fairly presumptuous about the reach of their authority when it comes the issue of censoring Twitter accounts (and the Internet in general, really) they think pose a danger to national security. An article published last month in The New York Times reported that government officials audaciously believe that “they may have the legal authority to demand that Twitter close” accounts they deem to be associated with suspected terrorists.
EFF goes on in the article to recount multiple examples of the U.S. government’s attempt to cajole Twitter into removing the “terrorist” tweets and accounts. As if the imminent domain complexities weren’t bad enough when exercised in the physical world but now the government is apparently trying to flex those muscles over here in cyberspace. EFF sums up the fixation of government officials on alleged terrorists’ Twitter accounts by expressing their hope that “the U.S. government has better things to do than to upend Constitutional law and proceed with unprecedented censorship over a Twitter account that gets into Internet flame wars and professes a love for caramel macchiatos” (one of the Twitter accounts the U.S. government has singled out contains posts about the wonders of the delicious coffee beverage).
This reminds me of that fad in the 19th century when, if ever a newspaper published some unflattering or damning information about a group, it was de rigueur for the defamed parties to go smash up the printing press that produced the newspaper. The act of political vandalism didn’t work then – obviously, or else we wouldn’t still know about it – and it won’t work with the printing press’s journalistic descendent, the Internet. Society’s utterly clueless commitment to repeat history never ceases to astound.