This essay closely examines the effect on free-expression rights when platforms such as Facebook or YouTube silence their users’ speech. The first part describes the often messy blend of government and private power behind many content removals, and discusses how the combination undermines users’ rights to challenge state action. The second part explores the legal minefield for users—or potentially, legislators—claiming a right to speak on major platforms.
Latest in Aegis Paper Series
This Lawfare post summarizes a longer essay we are publishing today with the Hoover Working Group on National Security, Technology and Law. Our essay addresses whether governments ever have a justified basis for treating targets of surveillance differently, in any way, based on nationality. This issue is of general importance and has become particularly important in the current legal debates about whether the U.S.
Flat light is the state of disorientation, feared among pilots, in which all visual references are lost. The effects of flat light “completely obscure features of the terrain, creating an inability to distinguish distances and closure rates. As a result of this reflected light, [flat light] can give pilots the illusion that they are ascending or descending when they may actually be flying level.”
This is the state of information security today.
After brazenly interfering in the 2016 US election, Russia now “perceive[s] . . . its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian midterm operations.” That was the warning delivered by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on behalf of the US Intelligence Community to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) as part of the worldwide threat briefing that took place February 13, 2018.
To regulate social media in the twenty-first century, we should focus on its political economy: the nature of digital capitalism and how we pay for the digital public sphere we have. Our digital public sphere is premised on a grand bargain: free communications services in exchange for pervasive data collection and analysis. This allows companies to sell access to end users to the companies’ advertisers and other businesses.
Technology firms are extraordinarily powerful. They control vast sums of money. They serve unprecedentedly large customer bases—in some instances, larger customer bases than any nation on earth (Facebook now has over 2 billion users).
On Thursday, Sept. 6, Twitter permanently banned the right-wing provocateur Alex Jones and his conspiracy theorist website Infowars from its platform. This was something of the final blow to Jones’s online presence: Facebook, Apple and Youtube, among others, blocked Jones from using their services in early August. Cut off from Twitter as well, he is now severely limited in his ability to spread his conspiracy theories to a mainstream audience.
Major technology and social-media companies— think Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Google— wield tremendous power. Given their reach, their financial heft, their importance to vast swaths of customers dependent on their goods, services, and platforms, and their ability to influence (if not altogether dictate) transnational public policy, these firms often look and act the part of proprietors, stewards, and even governors of digital public squares.
Never before in history have terrorists had such easy access to the minds and eyeballs of millions,” declared one journalistic account of the Islamic State’s propaganda machine and proficient use of Twitter, Facebook, bots, and other modern means of getting its message out. Such views that the group’s “mastery of modern digital tools” has transformed terrorism are commonplace and, though usually presented breathlessly, contain some basic truths. Successful terrorist groups are good communicators and they employ the technology of their times.
The Case for Pragmatism and an Opportunity for Sino-US Leadership: Protecting Financial Stability Against Cyber Threats
Geopolitical tensions are on the rise worldwide, including between China and the United States. This will make multilateral cooperation and engagement generally, and diplomatic efforts focusing on more comprehensive frameworks specifically, more challenging. At the same time, the technological change will persist, transforming societies that become increasingly digitally connected in terms of both humans and machines. Governments can either manage emerging risks associated with this transformation proactively or respond reactively to them after major incidents.