News Release

Tweets in a Time of Terror: Clinton and Carson Target Free Speech

JILLIAN YORK, jillian at eff.org, @JillianCYork, @censored
York is a writer and activist whose work lies at the intersection of technology and policy. Based in Berlin, she is director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where she works on issues of free expression, privacy, and digital security. She is co-founder of onlinecensorship.org.

York recently co-wrote the piece “Tweets in the Time of Terror: U.S. Candidates Take Aim At Free Speech,” which states: “Both Ben Carson and Hillary Clinton, within a span of 24 hours, went on the record as saying that a necessary action in defeating ISIS is for social media platforms — on which much of our everyday speech takes place — to shut down speech. Free speech stands at the core of the American ethos, but it seems two of the country’s leading presidential candidates are all too willing — even eager — to limit that core civil liberty. …

“‘We must not allow [ISIS’] macabre murder videos and threats to be promoted anywhere,’ said Carson, referencing the hacker group Anonymous as an inspiration for his policy. Clinton’s statement suggested the potential for censorship beyond the speech of terrorists: ‘There is no doubt we have to do a better job contesting online space, including websites and chat rooms where jihadists communicate with followers,’ she said. In a Washington Post op-ed, Carson proposes an increase in government technical surveillance. ‘We can monitor social media by expanding the search algorithms already in place to safeguard against inappropriate behavior, including religious hate speech,’ he writes. ‘Once flagged, we can notify platform providers and encourage them to censor communications (and block users) that violate the terms of constructive discourse.’ …

“Advocating for privately-enforced domestic censorship in response to foreign attacks shows a fundamental proclivity for using external events to limit the freedoms of American citizens. One shudders to think of what response these candidates would advocate in the case of a terror attack on the American homeland. Any serious presidential candidate needs to show the American people how they would address the root causes of terrorism — not violate the integrity of the civil liberties of its own citizens. The American electorate must demand their candidates offer a thorough explanation for any attempt to compromise the free exchange of ideas that social media affords us just because it’s a low-hanging fruit.”

Onlinecensorship.org notes: “Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google+ have an outsized impact in our social lives. We treat these platforms as a ‘public sphere,’ using them to discuss issues both controversial and menial, to connect with friends far and near, and to engage in activism and debate. But while these platforms may be used by the public, they’re ultimately owned by private companies with their own rules and systems of governance that control — and in some cases, censor — users’ content.”

For background and debate on related issues, see from Glenn Greenwald: “Should Twitter, Facebook and Google Executives be the Arbiters of What We See and Read?” and “Greenwald’s Free Speech Absolutism and Twitter’s Foley Ban” by @RancidTarzie.