“freedom of expression is crucial and central to the American project. It’s also not a force field by which people are shielded from other rules. If I want to get people’s attention by, say, driving 120 miles an hour while sporting a Palestinian flag, I cannot tell the officer who pulls me over for reckless driving that I’m simply exercising my free speech rights. The First Amendment does not give carte blanche to violate the law.”
“One need not agree with those students’ slogans, their tactics, or their goals to recognize that provocative political speech is protected by the First Amendment. Republican political figures who have spent years railing against censorship and cancel culture would do well to remember that.”
“the news agency Reuters published an eye-opening cybersecurity investigation bylined by Washington-based reporters and full of news of interest to Americans. But Americans aren’t allowed to read the story anymore — by order of a court in India.
It’s a disturbing turn of events that couldn’t have happened in the pre-internet era, when publishing — and censorship — were largely local affairs.”
““If you are the Iowa Daily Beagle, and you publish a story that upsets some company in India, that company can go to an Indian court and get whatever injunction they want,” said Charles Glasser, who spent 12 years as the global media counsel for Bloomberg News and is the author of a book on international libel law. “But if the Iowa Daily Beagle has no assets in India and does no business in India, they can’t do much. It becomes more of an issue for international publishers, like Reuters. They certainly have resources there, and they are subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian court.”
Of course, Glasser notes, publishers have the ability to geofence content, making it so that an American reader can access a certain page while an Indian reader cannot. But that can backfire. Particularly in a country with historic reasons to be prickly about Western condescension, a judge is likely to take it as a sign of disrespect if an order is ignored beyond the border — not a good move if you are facing trial.
The upshot: Readers in America, where prior restraint is forbidden and where courts won’t enforce foreign rulings that violate the First Amendment, are blocked from reading a story based on a legal complaint that would be tossed out of most American courts.”
“Hong Kong is using its national security law to arrest and prosecute critics residing in the United States. The Hong Kong police recently announced cash bounties of HK$1 million ($128,000) for information leading to the arrest of five young activists. The targets—Frances Hui, Joey
“The Department of Justice claimed this was about “keeping women and children across America safe” from sex trafficking. But behind that bravado, the government’s actual case was clearly something less noble. A performance of protection. A publicity stunt. A massive scapegoating set against the backdrop of a moral panic. And a politicized prosecution against people who engaged in and defended the most dangerous thing to any government: free speech.
Ultimately, the Backpage prosecution was a small-scale tragedy that upended individual lives as well as something much bigger. Its effects were wide-reaching and devastating for many sex workers. And yet—it wasn’t ultimately about sexual commerce or sexual crimes, not at its core. This was a warning shot fired at entities that enable all sorts of digital communication and a test bed for further legal attacks on tech companies that won’t suppress speech as politicians see fit.
That Lacey was convicted of “international concealment money laundering” is bizarre, since the money transfer was not concealed: His lawyer informed the IRS about it, as required by law. And it was not made for nefarious purposes, according to Scottsdale lawyer John Becker’s trial testimony. Lacey had needed some place to park his savings after U.S. banks, scared by a years-long propaganda crusade against Backpage, had decided doing business with the company or its associates was a reputational risk. So Becker and another lawyer advised Lacey to deposit the money—$17 million, on which taxes had been paid—with a foreign bank.
It’s hard to see how Lacey conducted a financial transaction “to conceal or disguise the nature, the location, the source, the ownership, or the control of the proceeds of specified unlawful activity,” even if you accept the government’s premise that this money was derived from unlawful activity. And, to be clear, I don’t accept that premise, since Backpage’s business should have been protected by the First Amendment (not to mention Section 230 of federal communications law).
But Backpage made money from adult ads, and the government alleges that some of those ads were illegal enticements to prostitution. Therefore, the case alleged, anything done with money made from Backpage was de facto illegal. That’s how Lacey—and former Backpage executives Jed Brunst and Scott Spear—wound up facing money laundering charges for merely moving money around.”
“So far, most of the firings appear to have been for expressing pro-Palestinian views — the U.S.-based advocacy organization Palestine Legal reports that they’ve responded to over 260 cases of people’s “livelihoods or careers” being targeted. But the fact that these firings have been due in large part to social media posts and the widespread broadcasting of personal political beliefs means that the trend may not stay on one issue or one side of a dispute for long; Lakier says that we are watching the relationship between free expression and employment shift in real time.
Currently, regulations concerning speech and private employment oscillate wildly from state to state — about half of states have no protections for private employees who express political beliefs, while others have laws that vary in terms of scope. Many of the employment laws that do exist find their roots in the 19th century and are little use in navigating the 21st century workplace. Meanwhile, ideas about protected speech are constantly shifting in the culture: After 9/11, for example, the war on terror brought with it new examinations into what kind of speech promulgates terrorism. More recently, debates over “cancel culture” on campuses and in the workplace have brought up similar questions of what speech is permissible — and when consequences are justified.
“The First Amendment has always had exceptions, but those exceptions can expand under pressure,” Lakier told me. Since the Israel-Hamas war began, “people are interpreting the category of hate speech or the incitement of violent speech very, very broadly to include speech that in my view is totally legitimate, often pro-peace speech.””
“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, has ordered pro-Palestinian student groups at Florida universities to shut themselves down. While the stated rationale is that these activists are providing “material support” for terrorism, the governor’s order is a direct violation of free speech principles, as well as the First Amendment.
State University System of Florida Chancellor Raymon Rodrigues announced the order on Tuesday, citing the on-campus activism of National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a student group that is active at both the University of Florida and the University of Southern Florida.”
“Conservatives who claim to oppose censorship on college campuses—and call it out whenever right-leaning students and faculty are the victims and leftwing activists are the aggressors—are engaged in obvious hypocrisy if they do not criticize DeSantis for this. The answer to bad speech is more speech; it is not state action.”
“Publicly, President Joe Biden accused the platforms of “killing people” by failing to suppress speech that discouraged vaccination against COVID-19. Murthy likewise said that failure was “costing people their lives.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declared that social media companies “have a responsibility related to the health and safety of all Americans to stop amplifying untrustworthy content, disinformation, and misinformation, especially related to COVID-19, vaccinations, and elections.” If they failed to meet that responsibility, Murthy said, “legal and regulatory measures” might be necessary. Psaki floated the possibility of new privacy regulations and threatened social media companies with “a robust anti-trust program.” White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said the platforms “should be held accountable,” which she suggested could include reducing their legal protection against civil claims based on users’ posts.
Privately, administration officials pressed Facebook et al. to delete or downgrade specific posts and banish specific speakers, to take action against content even when it did not violate the platforms’ rules, and to expand those rules so that any speech federal officials viewed as dangerous to public health could be deemed a violation. Their “requests” were sometimes phrased as demands.”
“Flaherty emphasized that he was acting on the president’s behalf, that his concerns were “shared at the highest (and I mean highest) levels of the [White House].” White House officials invoked previous perceived failures at content moderation, which they said had been disastrous. “When Facebook did not take a prominent pundit’s ‘popular post’ down,” the 5th Circuit notes, senior White House COVID-19 adviser Andrew Slavitt “asked ‘what good is’ the reporting system, and signed off with ‘last time we did this dance, it ended in an insurrection.'” In another exchange, Flaherty “demand[ed] ‘assurances’ that [Facebook] was taking action” and “likened the platform’s alleged inaction to the 2020 election, which it ‘helped increase skepticism in,'” adding that “an insurrection…was plotted, in large part, on your platform.'”
When social media companies failed to do what the administration wanted, White House officials reacted angrily. Flaherty noted that a flagged Facebook post was “still up,” asking, “How does something like that happen?” Facebook was “hiding the ball,” Flaherty complained. “Are you guys fucking serious?” he said in another email to Facebook. “I want an answer on what happened here and I want it today.” Because Facebook was “not trying to solve the problem,” Slavitt said, the White House was “considering our options on what to do about it.””
“By and large, especially after Biden and Murthy accused social media companies of killing people, the platforms did what the White House wanted. They were eager to appease the president, repeatedly asking how they could work together to address his concerns. In this context, the 5th Circuit says, it is likely that the pressure campaign amounted to “coercion” and that the White House unconstitutionally shaped moderation decisions.”
“The bill criminalizes the “improper treatment of objects of significant religious importance to religious communities.” The prohibition marks a sea change in a country where no one has been convicted of blasphemy since 1946, and successive governments have defended freedom of expression following newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in 2005.
The Danish change of heart can mostly be traced to Rasmus Paludan, an anti-Muslim bigot and far-right activist, whose favorite pastime consists of burning Qurans around the country. These Quran burnings have not only led to violence and terrorist threats from religious extremists but also concerted intimidation from the 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has worked to protect Islam from what they term “defamation” since the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in 1988.
A plurality of Danes support the bill. After all, why should they risk terrorist attacks and economic sanctions due to the antics of a widely despised extremist whose ideas and actions are off-putting even to secular non-muslims? Many Danes feel there are better and more sophisticated ways to criticize a religion than torching books.
But it is precisely the tolerance of the most offensive ideas put forth by the individuals most despised by polite society that is the true measure of the civic commitment to free speech. Once you abandon principle for expediency, it establishes a precedent that incentivizes demands for further concessions.
Using violence and diplomatic coercion, religious extremists and the OIC have established that even in liberal democracies, religions and their followers are entitled to special legal protection that trumps individual freedoms. No doubt the Danish prohibition will form the tip of the spear in the OIC’s global campaign to purge “blasphemous” content.”