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26 November 2011

Repudiation: Censorship of the Blogosphere

Less than a week ago I wrote about pending legislation that would potentially curtail Internet activity based on allegations of copyright infringement.  It should not be a surprise that this is only one of the ongoing threats to Freedom of Speech on the web.

Talking Point Memo has placed a letter online from Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman asking Google to provide censorship of terrorist activities on Blogger (and Blogspot). The impetus for this request is Jose Pimentel, perhaps better known as New York City's recent Lone Wolf Bomber, who ran a blog (no longer accessible) called

Mr. Lieberman claims that Mr. Pimentel wrote hate-filled entries on this blog, threats against the United States, and provided links to bomb-making instructions.
Pimentel's site is just one of the many examples of homegrown terrorists using Google-hosted sites to propagate their violent ideology.
The Senator goes on to complain that Google is inconsistent in how it limits content.
Unlike YouTube's Community Standards, Blogger's content policy does not expressly ban terrorist content nor does it provide a "flag" feature for such content.
If one reads my posts, it should be clear that I do not approve of violence.  Terrorism is (or should be) unacceptable behavior in any society.  This still troubles me.

How does one define terrorism in the case of a blog entry?  Does being classified as terrorism require more or less than an online threat?  The second question is germane because making threats online is already illegal.  YouTube's flag system is subject to criticism.  Perhaps it is too easy for YouTube video to be pulled due to allegation of copy violation.  Perhaps it is not easy enough.

Is it reasonable for me to protest about the threats to the LGBTQ Community from religious hate sites?  Can they ask that my content be pulled because I advocate what they call a threat to "traditional" marriage?

Freedom of Speech is a precarious right.  It must not be abused by threats of violence and it must not be limited due to paranoia.  Mr. Pinentel's site (which I never saw) was properly pulled if it contained the threats that are alleged.  But it is reasonable to be concerned about an overreach of flags and censorship for anything less.  Heated argument is healthy for a democratic republic.  Violence is not.

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