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Social Media Censorship: Should Twitter, Facebook and Google Executives be the Arbiters of What We See and Read?




By Glenn Greenwald
There have been increasingly vocal calls for Twitter, Facebook and other Silicon Valley corporations to more aggressively police what their users are permitted to see and read. Last month in The Washington Post, for instance, MSNBC host Ronan Farrow demanded that social media companies ban the accounts of “terrorists” who issue “direct calls” for violence.

This week, the announcement by Twitter CEO Dick Costolo that the company would prohibit the posting of the James Foley beheading video and photos from it (and suspend the accounts of anyone who links to the video) met with overwhelming approval. What made that so significant, as The Guardian‘s James Ball noted today, was that “Twitter has promoted its free speech credentials aggressively since the network’s inception.” By contrast, Facebook has long actively regulated what its users are permitted to say and read; at the end of 2013, the company reversed its prior ruling and decided that posting of beheading videos would be allowed, but only if the user did not express support for the act.

[...]

In the digital age, we are nearing the point where an idea banished by Twitter, Facebook and Google all but vanishes from public discourse entirely, and that is only going to become more true as those companies grow even further. Whatever else is true, the implications of having those companies make lists of permitted and prohibited ideas are far more significant than when ordinary private companies do the same thing.

[...]

If you want these companies to suppress calls for violence, as Ronan Farrow advocated, does that apply to all calls for violence, or only certain kinds? Should MSNBC personalities be allowed to use Twitter to advocate U.S. drone-bombing in Yemen and Somalia and justify the killing of innocent teenagers, or use Facebook to call on their government to initiate wars of aggression? How about Israelis who use Facebook to demand “vengeance” for the killing of 3 Israeli teenagers, spewing anti-Arab bigotry as they do it: should that be suppressed under this “no calls for violence” standard?

A Fox News host this week opined that all Muslims are like ISIS and can only be dealt with through “a bullet to the head”: should she, or anyone linking to her endorsement of violence (arguably genocide), be banned from Twitter and Facebook? How about Bob Beckel’s call on Fox that Julian Assange be “assassinated”: would that be allowed under Ronan Farrow’s no-calls-for-violence standard? I had a long dialogue with Farrow on Twitter about his op-ed but was not really able to get answers to questions like these.

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