Trump's Latest Nonsensical Announcement About Censoring The Internet
from the want-to-try-that-again? dept
While many of President Trump’s strongest supporters still insist that he’s “bringing free speech back,” the truth is that Trump has been advocating for censoring the internet since very early in his campaign for the Presidency. Of course, his position on this has never been entirely coherent — and he sometimes swings wildly around with his emotional ideas of what he likes, often with little basis into legal, political or technical realities. His latest is a bit like that as well. In a speech in Reno he suddenly burst out with a barely comprehensible policy position on keeping ISIS off the internet:
“I will tell you, we are going to start working very hard on the Internet because they are using the Internet at a level that they should not be allowed to use the Internet,” Trump said during a bill-signing event with the American Legion in Reno, Nev. “They’re recruiting from the Internet and we are going to work under my administration very hard so that doesn’t happen.”
Now, it’s one thing to argue for working on ways to disrupt ISIS recruitment online. I’m all for doing counter-programing, education and the like around that. But that’s a far cry from “they should not be allowed to use the internet.” That statement packs quite a wallop. And it’s easy to chalk it up to “Trump being Trump” and saying things without understanding the impact of what he’s saying (and without him really understanding the details behind these issues), but considering the attacks on free speech and on the ability to use the internet these days, we should be pretty vigilant about this stuff. And, somewhat ironically, you’d think that some of Trump’s most vocal supporters would be against him on this. After all, they’re the ones who keep getting kicked off various online platforms and complaining about how that shouldn’t be allowed. But if Trump actually comes up with a plan that says ISIS people can’t use the internet, that’s a clear recipe for excluding anyone you dislike from using the internet at all.
And, of course, all of this is a lot more complicated than people seem to think. Just in the last week, we’ve had two separate stories showing how YouTube’s attempts to stop terrorists and Nazis from using its platforms, both backfired badly — with the company actually taking down people calling out terrorists and Nazis.
There’s a larger point here beyond our President being unwilling or unable to deal with the nuances of his proclamations on who should and shouldn’t be able to use the internet: and it’s that these things are a slippery slope that involve a lot of tricky problems and many, many serious unintended consequences, even when done with care and thoughtfulness. Rushing into internet censorship because “terrorists bad” is going to be a hell of a lot more destructive to the free speech and free association rights of the public than it would be for actual ISIS members.