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The Tweets of War

According to Jillian York, the Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit advocacy and legal organization that works to protect digital rights, “Companies have no obligation to keep up free speech.” That said, she told me that she’s occasionally been surprised at the extent to which Twitter put aside incitement issues and left active accounts of radical militant groups such as Al Shabaab, in Somalia. She told me that no charges have been brought against Twitter for that, and she doesn’t see why they would change their mind with regards to militant language from a state. Under the Communications Decency Act, Twitter is shielded against a range of laws that might otherwise hold the company legally responsible for user content that it hosts. Kurt Opsahl, an attorney with the organization, explained that “the First Amendment protects against government censorship. It seems unlikely that the U.S. government would attempt to require by court order that social-media companies remove the I.D.F. feed…. Even if they did, the material is quite newsworthy, and the First Amendment would likely prevail.” By way of explanation, he went on: “Imagine it is The New Yorker, not Twitter. If The New Yorker published a quote from the I.D.F. threatening Hamas, you would imagine the First Amendment would protect that publication.”

Monday, November 19, 2012
New Yorker

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