Friday, September 26, 2014

Money Talks for Opportunistic "Free Speech" Havens

Frank Pasquale

I am thrilled to see my colleague Danielle Citron's book, Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, garner so many positive reviews and mentions. Katharine Quimby makes a great point about Citron's work in the Guardian today:
Until recently, [large internet companies] have not addressed "harassing content", arguing that they are "mere conduits". But that is changing. Citron is part of the movement promoting reform, as a member of a low-key, but influential body: the Anti-Cyberhate Working Group, made up of industry representatives, non-governmental organisations, academics and others. It originated in a campaign to combat antisemitism online, but soon widened its scope. Facebook has arguably changed most rapidly, with Google's YouTube also now acting, on occasion, to combat harassment. Twitter has been the slowest, and has come in for criticism in the British context. Of course, money talks – and is having an effect: Citron cites Facebook's decision to take down pro‑rape pages in May 2013, after 15 companies, including Nissan, threatened to pull their ads.
In other works: when it's cheaper to do nothing, online gatekeepers will push CDA immunities as the foundation of free speech online. But as soon as the cost of laissez-faire rises, they'll assert free speech rights and despotic dominion over their platforms. I'm sure their lawyers will bend over backwards to justify the chameleon rhetoric. The complexity of free speech law offers multiple affordances for doing so. But we should all be clear on the motivation: less the noble ambition to "connect the world" than the financial imperative of constant earnings growth.

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