Are Government Social Media “Crackdowns” Ever Justified?

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Peter Sperry 5 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #178920

    David B. Grinberg

    The Washington Post reports that more and more world governments are cracking down on public speech made via social media — including America’s closest democratic ally, Great Britain.

    According to the article, Questioning the right to tweet:

    • “After the recent slaying of a British soldier in a suspected Islamist extremist attack, angry social media users took to Twitter and Facebook, with some dispatching racially and religiously charged comments that got them quickly noticed on the busy boulevards of the Internet.”
    • “For at least a half-dozen users, their comments landed them in jail. Acting on complaints from outraged members of the public, British authorities slapped charges of “malicious communication” on the worst offenders.”
    • “Social media crackdowns have become the hallmark of authoritarian governments from China to Syria. But the arrests last week became the latest in a string of such cases in Britain, underscoring how even some of the world’s greatest democracies are struggling with the rising power of social media.”


    1) When, if ever, should any world government be permitted to censor speech on social media and/or arrest members of the public for alleged inflammatory posts?

    2) How concerned are you that the U.S. Government will become part of this trend?

    3) Is national security an appropriate justification? If so, when?

    4) What can be done to stop such social media crackdowns?

    * All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.

  • #178936

    Peter Sperry

    1. Never

    2. The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee and the head of the Knoxville office of the FBI are giving a seminar on Tuesday June 4th on how to use civil rights laws to censor speech on social media. The Department of Education is encouraging universities to revise campus harassment codes to censor speech, including speech on social media. A film maker who posted an offensive video on social media prior to the Benghazi attacks is still being held in jail on a probation violation that normally does not even rate a written warning. How much more does it take to realize the current U.S. Federal government is part of the problem rather than part of the solution?

    3. No

    4. Vote for Libertarians

    All opinions are my own.

  • #178934

    David B. Grinberg

    Excellent reply, Peter. Thanks for sharing your always interesting and intriguing views, especially No. 2 — which I was not aware of (do you have any links or citations to share?).

    Also, I’m a bit surprised that apparently you don’t think there’s ever a national security reason to justify online censorship — even if people’s lives are at stake?

    Thanks again, kind sir.

  • #178932

    Henry Brown

    1. Government always has had the responsibility to censor speech, the very fine line between what is freedom of speech and what is criminal activity has always been the issue. Believe more than one person has gone to jail, or at the very least lost their career because they shared information which was classified. Surely no one would suggest that if a dumb criminal posts a video of his crime on YouTube that the police should not have the right to review that video and arrest the individual! Believe, and justifiably so, if an individual threatened/promised to kill someone, at the very least a visit from the affected law enforcement would be in the short term future.
    IMO where it gets sticky is what should result in an arrest believe the quote “freedom of speech does not mean you can cry fire in a crowded theater with no fire present and not suffer repercussions” is extremely relevant.

    2. U.S. Government is already part of this trend and probably has been for decades if not since 1776 (not that big of a history buff <GRIN>) What concerns me the most is there seems to be very little safeguards in place to protect our freedom of speech from those who cry “national security trumps all”

    3. Yes national security is an appropriate justification, but where it gets sticky who decides what is national security. The politician du jour? The constitution, which has required interpretation well over 16000 times? or a vote by the citizens? or???

    4. Transparency, although easier said than done

  • #178930

    David B. Grinberg

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Henry. My take:

    • Online speech via social media should enjoy the same First Amendment free speech protections as any other form of communication. If there’s a conflict of interest or legal dispute b/w gov and other parties, then the courts need to clarify the law’s application and constitutional protections — up to, and including, the Supreme Court, which has historically interpreted free speech broadly, regardless of changing technology.
    • I’m not overly concerned about the U.S. Gov cracking down on free speech via social media. I think it’s a much bigger issue and concern for the private sector, where employees have been fired or suffered other adverse employment actions for their personal postings, even off-the-clock. American employers need to help set a positive example rather than being part of the problem.
    • There may indeed be national security justifications to regulate social media communications, especially if it involves saving lives of U.S. citizens. However, that’s a tricky subject.
    • The U.S. can and should do everything possible to promote world-wide free speech online and offline, including via social media. I agree that fostering transparency here at home is critically important for the U.S. to be a global role model.
    • Lastly, I think Great Britain should be very deliberate in assessing the costs and benefits of social media crackdowns because it’s a slippery slope. Knee-jerk reactions are not wise IMO.
  • #178928

    Henry Brown

    Would offer that in this case the US (FBI) is not promoting free speech online…. maybe for national security reasons, but who besides the FBI and Google knows, and google by law is prohibited from even sharing with the subject(s) of the inquiry any information

    From CNET:

    A federal judge has ruled that Google must comply with the FBI’s warrantless requests for confidential user data, despite the search company’s arguments that the secret demands are illegal.

    CNET has learned that U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco rejected Google’s request to modify or throw out 19 so-called National Security Letters, a warrantless electronic data-gathering technique used by the FBI that does not need a judge’s approval. Her ruling came after a pair of top FBI officials, including an assistant director, submitted classified affidavits.

  • #178926

    David B. Grinberg

    Thanks for sharing this interesting info, Henry.

    It appears that online privacy in today’s digital/mobile world has become more and more rare — if not a thing of the past already. This is especially true with gov national security matters per the Patriot Act and related executive or legislative actions, etc.

    However, it’s a bit different when foreign govs totally blocks social media sites and/or prosecutes citizens based upon online speech alleged to be hateful or inflammatory.

    Per your point, is any online activity by citizens — or even gov — really “confidential” anymore? I think not, just look at the Chinese hackers and Wiki-leaks, for example.

    Perhaps that’s just the “brave new world” we live in, as Aldous Huxley famous novel.

    Maybe folks need to go back to meeting in basements of garages to exchange really confidential info or to blow the whistle, like “deep throat” did in Watergate. Back to basics, so to speak.


  • #178924

    David B. Grinberg

    A telling illustration on how Huxley and Orwell may have viewed the current Information Age via information overload or lack thereof…

  • #178922

    Henry Brown

    Not sure that foreign countries have any corner on the prosecution/persecution of their citizens for publishing hateful or inflammatory remarks. Granted what might be inflammatory to country A may or may not be inflammatory to country B.

    I don’t believe that any government should totally block access to social media sites just as I don’t believe that any government should block another another government’s access to social media sites.

    I know it is NOT true but I would like to think hope that the government would treat my data the same way they treat their own data

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