The Electronic Frontier Foundation has always deeply disgusted me because I always felt they were telling a very Big Lie.
Now this is very clear in their taking Twitter's side in the decision to censor tweets on behalf of censoring states. EFF is helping to set up a new paradigm whereby we judge right and wrong and freedom and tyranny not by universal principles, but by "what's good for the platform" -- what's good for the Internet companies! Ugh!
EFF and other lobbyists claim to be for "Internet freedom" and against censorship and claim to be fighting the good fight so that copyright doesn't become too overly restrictive, while ostensibly still honouring the concept of intellectual property.
But it's all fake, and all they are is merely the nonprofit lobbying arm of the Silicon Valley behemoth of Google and other giant platform providers for social media and the web.
I could first see their Big Lie years ago when they wound up undermining intellectual property rights in the online virtual world of Second Life. They would shrug snarkly that we had all signed a Terms of Service giving away some of our rights, so it was all our problem. They never had any imagination or vision about this because basically, they are all about undermining copyright.
You can see it very starkly in the Youtube videos of John Perry Barlow -- he acts as if digitalizing content automatically liberates it -- and compares attempts to copyright it to a hypothetical attempt by a doctor to copyright his prescription. The scrip is just a scrip, a means to an end; so is all code.
Where we can really see the hypocrisy on parade now is in EFF's duplicitious behaviour with regard to SOPA/PIPA, the Congressional bills to protect IP, which they zealously fought, hysterically claiming that efforts to prosecute piracy constituited "censorship". They could concoct this fantasy -- whipsawing millions of people who didn't bother to read the bill or understand how the legal system works -- by claiming that there was some remote edge-case possibility that someone with a web site that had some pirated material would be shut down entirely. (BTW, some are pointing to the prosecution of Megauploader now, trying to exonerate this pirate site by the fact that some people used it to upload original material for which they owned the copyright). Or they would claim that merely posting a link to a pirate site would get your blog removed. Ridiculous. Nothing of the sort is inherent in the bill or able to come out of it in practice, given all the narrow definitions, remedies and defenses.
The EFF master manipulation of the very meaning of "censorship" in this propaganda campaign, joining the Google lobby and other big platforms lobbying against SOPA, was part of eroding actual universal legal meaning and common sense. We could all really tell the difference between shutting down a site filled with stolen music videos and movies, and "harming creativity" by shutting down somebody's music review site or "crippling innovation" by dinging somebody's ap that searched stuff on the web. Truly we could, although EFF and Google and others fictionalized a notion that the distinctions would be blurred.
What was being blurred was meaning itself -- "censorship" became anything that got in the way of the Big Heist that Google commits with Youtube, hijacking movie and music companies' content to sell ads. "Censorship" became anything that got in the way of entertainment of the endlessly coddled youth online. "Censorship" became anything that just got in the way of the "flow" of liberated content that benefits programmers and consultants but not content creators.
So having undermined the very meaning of "censorship," it's not surprising that when Twitter decides to serve as an accomplice to repressive governments in their censorship, EFF and the whole Google gaggle are now claiming that there is no censorship at all, and that we're all over-reacting.
They are really sinister and this is why you cannot have them take power over the Internet. This is why I fight them.
Yeah, we get it that non-state actors cannot technically be "censors" (and that's why, when they shrieked about companies "censoring" with SOPA they were ridiculous, especially because they never explained why companies didn't have to abide by their own terms of service!).
No, only governments as state actors can censor, post and prior to publication -- but that's not the point. In our day, platform providers like Facebook with its 650 million users or Twitter with its 30 million users are more massively populated than actual states in the real world. Facebook is twice the population of the United States. So it and other platforms become even more massive than a state in their actions and law-makers begin to contemplate how they will be suborned to the rule of law instead of growing larger and greeder and more abusive.
The very people rushing to justify the "law-enforcement" of tyrannical states now don't seem to be willing to subject these big platforms to any law in this country, such as with SOPA/PIPA. That's quite the glaring "internal contradiction".
What's nauseating about the justification of this move we're seeing from EFF and others is that they claim that because Twitter is refining its censorship capacity -- fine-tuning it by country and by individual tweet -- and allowing us to see the tweet outside the country, that it doesn't have to face the angry hordes concerned about their actual censorship involved in doing that. There's even a sly -- but silly -- notion that by allowing re-tweets, that Twitter will "route around" censorship even back into countries -- as if the authoritarian states won't simply block Twitter completely rather than put up with that nonsense.
In fact, the entire notion Twitter is peddling now depends on a liberal democratic state being the practitioner of the new policy -- selecting censoring some tweets but generally allowing others to go through. Of course the real opppressive states aren't going to play that game.
Let's be clear about right and wrong here: Twitter could just not do business in countries that censor. Oh, does that mean that it would not be able to do business in Germany because Germany censors pro-Nazi sentiment as a crime? Won't everyone agree the world is better off censoring that speech? Those who worried about SOPA being a big hammer will likely not worry about trouble distinguishing among extreme right-wing speech they don't like and what might be "permissible".
So could Twitter just say "We won't do business in Germany" (or China or Russia or Syria if it ever comes to that). (By "doing business," they mean having staff and offices -- obviously anybody with a phone or computer connection can log on to Twitter pretty much anywhere unless it's blocked).
What's most revolting is the justification that the platform "should have a right of way" and just spread and spread everywhere.
Who says platforms have to go everywhere? They don't. If they can't have a basic climate of freedom and free flow of speech, then why are they there? The kind of country that is so oppressive of speech that it blocks dissent on the Internet will tend to be a country not so conducive to business either -- the kind of state that jails dissidents also tends to be the kind of state that suddenly nationalizes your investment (like Uzbekistan). Why be there?
There's another option -- Twitter could give the technology that it is planning to use itself to block tweets to governments (or open source it) and then let the chips fall where they may. Wouldn't everybody find that horrible?
There's nothing to be gained by seeing masses of censored tweets -- because it validates censorship when everyone can see the act transparently and then begin to discuss it -- why, that tweet was rightfully censored, why, this one was wrongfully censored. The alchemy of how this will spread will be awful to see. People will begin to form opinions of what is "civil and acceptable speech" and begin to back some countries, especially the more politically correct states, in their censoring. Large bodies of people will begin to form influential opinions about what is "ok" to censor because they will constantly have this bad example before them, bleeding into the entire Twitter-space.
Cindy Cohn, legal advisor of EFF, says pragmatically that Twitter is merely doing what all companies do. They all take down stuff; they all have TOS rules they do enforce, even if unevenly. The idea that making these bad acts transparent rescues them morally is simply reprehensible. It doesn't. All that EFF is doing here is smacking its lips over the notion that in the US, they will suddenly see zillions of DMCA takedowns of infringing content (not censored political speech) that they think they will be able to exploit to advance their undermining of copyright.
I'm glad Reporters Without Borders spoke about against Twitter's censorship -- and it really is fair to call it that given the massive nature of Twitter across borders.
Rebecca McKinnon postured like other Google-facilitators did -- acting as if this is a "tough" decision when platforms branch out to other countries. Again, you don't have to go to China or Russia. No one is twisting your arm. If you are only going there out of a need to sell more ads or scrape more marketing data, colour me unimpressed.