American WeChat Users Getting Banned For Celebrating Hong Kong Election Results

from the reach-out-and-boot-someone dept

The recent election in Hong Kong may have scored some wins for pro-democracy candidates, but supporters of protesters and newly-elected candidates still aren’t able to do much celebrating on social media. WeChat, the massively popular messaging app owned by China’s Tencent, is apparently censoring posts and shutting down pro-democracy accounts.

That a Chinese company would censor pro-democracy messages is unsurprising. What’s a bit more unexpected is Tencent’s apparent willingness to shut down accounts owned by users in other countries, as Zoe Schiffer reports for The Verge.

Bin Xie, an information security analyst at Texas Children’s Hospital, wrote “The pro-China candidates totally lost” in a WeChat group before having his account shut down.

Xie is now part of a WhatsApp group for Chinese Americans who’ve recently been censored on WeChat. He joined the group to talk about what is happening and discuss what can be done to make it stop. “If you have censorship in China — fine,” he told The Verge. “But in this country? I’m a Republican but on WeChat I suffer the same as Democrats [using WeChat]— we are all censored.”

It’s unclear how far this has spread. Tencent claims it does not censor users from other countries on WeChat. The home version — Weixin — is more heavily-monitored as it is mainly used by Chinese citizens. WeChat, on the other hand, has servers located outside of China that aren’t subject to Chinese law, at least theoretically.

But it’s happening anyway. Maybe it’s just a glitch. Or maybe Tencent would just like everyone to believe it’s just a glitch. Tencent’s statement points fingers at the rest of the world and the hundreds of laws governing content removal.

In a statement emailed to The Verge, a Tencent spokesperson said, “Tencent operates in a complex regulatory environment, both in China and elsewhere. Like any global company, a core tenant is that we comply with local laws and regulations in the markets where we operate.”

Considering the Chinese government’s ability to pressure US corporations into apologies and scattershot proxy censorship, it’s not that difficult to picture it leaning heavily on Tencent to ignore the “complex regulatory environments” erected by other countries and just do what makes the Chinese government happy — even if that results in the censorship of citizens of other countries.

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ryuugami says:

In a statement emailed to The Verge, a Tencent spokesperson said, “[…] Like any global company, a core tenant is that we comply with local laws and regulations in the markets where we operate.”

Another core tenet is that they apparently don’t proofread their official statements to the press 🙂

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TFG says:


If WeChat shuts some one down in US at the behest of the Chinese government for speech the Chinese government doesn’t like its censorship.

If WeChat shuts someone down for behavior that WeChat has laid out in its policies as something it doesn’t want, then it’s company policies violation.

If those policies are set by government mandate to restrict speech the government doesn’t like, then it’s censorship.

The point is that, if the ultimate source of the shutting down comes from a government, it’s censorship – no matter where you are in the globe.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 FTFY

You speak as though your opinion represents all of the inhabitants in the country of China.
I seriously doubt that most people in that group hold a similar opinion of themselves. More likely the citizens, out of fear, exhibit characteristics that the government demands knowing full well the consequences of disobedience. Some people other than the Chinese government think that China is an example of good government practices. Are you one of these people? If so, why?

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 FTFY

It does change things, actually. The Government’s values flow from the Chinese Communist Party, you have it completely ass-backwards. You can be a member of the Chinese Communist Party and not be part of the government. You can’t be in government without being a member in good standing of the Party.

For the sake of simplicity, you can think of it like the American Republican party. Its leaders make up the current administration in power, right? And businesses run by Republicans often behave according to conservative social values, right? But you wouldn’t try to claim all of those businesses being run by Republicans are acting that way at the behest of the US government, would you?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 FTFY

"The Government’s values flow from the Chinese Communist Party"

Except that party isn’t "communist" any more than Kim Jong-un is a liberal.

China is governed today, as it was in the past, by a bureaucracy of highly educated mandarins and presided over by a figurehead which in the past was called "emperor", for a short while was called "the party" and is today once again very specifically NOT referred to as an emperor. All hail his chairman-for-life, his excellency Xi.

I’d argue China is and always has adhered to capitalism more red-in-tooth-and-claw than the US of today.

The entire "cultural revolution" can be seen as nothing other than an uprising resulting in a dynasty change, with the nation then swiftly guided right back into the millennia old business-as-usual political paradigm within a generation.

This shit has only happened about a few dozen times since the unification of Qin so it’s close to a miracle how so very many here in the west still think China is communist just because they call themselves that.

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TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:5 FTFY

Indeed. American governments certainly try to censor as well. They are not nearly as successful, but that doesn’t mean they don’t try.

American Government tends to get called out on it, too, especially by the same people who make noise when China censorship crosses their path. I don’t see why we should give China special treatment on calling out actions we don’t agree with.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 FTFY

"More likely the citizens, out of fear, exhibit characteristics that the government demands knowing full well the consequences of disobedience."

Yes and no.

For 95% of the chinese population (decidedly 99% of the ethnic Han Chinese population) Life Is Good under the current regime.
The remaining 1-5% are SOL.

China isn’t a tinpot dictatorship with one or two generations under an ultra-authoritarian hamfisted tyrant who ends up pissing up enough people it invariably ends in an uprising or a coup.

China is a dictatorship (really, a bureaucratic oligarchy) which has had 2000+ years worth of learning the boundaries on just how badly and to what extent government can screw the citizenry without falling. They know, by now, where to draw the line.

As a result of which when a westerner talks to a chinese politician about democracy the chinese politician often goes "That’s interesting and all…but can you please point to one single western country which has practiced democracy for a thousand years running without losing its national identity or collapsing?".

What chinese value is really simple. They have a national identity and culture 4000+ years old (2500 since the unification wars of the Huaxia). They want to keep it for the next 4000 years.

It’s easy to assume that the chinese citizenry are kept in oppression and – as would be the case in many european nations under the same conditions – are at the verge of adopting democratic values at the drop of a hat. It’s not that simple though. For most of the chinese citizens, China is, today, a land of opportunity. Especially if you happen to be ethnic Han and are smart enough to be liberal where you can’t be seen to flout it in the face of the government.

Very few care enough to risk their necks just to rock the boat.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 FTFY

Your mistake is in drawing a line at all between the values of the Chinese people and their government. Being a member of the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t make you a part of the government. Party membership is a requirement for higher levels of social and career advancement, for one thing.

Point being, there is no need for the government to do anything. Chinese people find it offensive when Westerners criticize China, for any reason. You know how the US has a huge streak of irrational nationalism that makes them think they are exceptional in every way? China has that too, backed up by 5,000 years of history that is hyped constantly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Not that you can ever be bothered to read, but the point at hand is that Tencent doesn’t have to stay in the good graces of party leadership, because the people that own, operate, and make decisions at Tencent, are members of the Party. They don’t have to be coerced because they really, truly want to support China and its government. There is no coercion required. Citizens, acting according to the values of their own culture, not yours, are making these decisions. That is NOT government censorship.

Do I have to use smaller words for you?

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R/O/G/S says:

Re: Re: Re:4 FTFY

Absolutely NOT censorship, according to TDs extensive writing on that topic.

It is deplatforming.

And, no different than US deplatforming because the ADL/SPLC/Feelz crowd applied pressure to a corpiration, which we see constantly (most recently, even an Intercept writer whining about altRight butthertz).

There is zero proof the Chinese government had anything to do with it.

So, Ah Qs 雕刻刀 theory posits that the Chinese government had NOTHING to do with it.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:5 FTFY

Deplatforming at the behest of government, or due to implied consequences from government, or due to corporate owners being tied at the hip to government interests, is …

wait for it…

a form of censorship.

As for the rest of your diatribe, American censorship is worth railing against as well. When the government steps in and tries to force speech, then yes, people should push back.

The SPLC and the ADL and all your dog-whistles aren’t actually the government, though. You’re free to disagree with them, but they don’t have governmental power, as much as you’d like to pretend they do in order to further your own personal worldview.

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Ah Q. R/O/G/S says:

Re: Re: Re:6 FTFY

AAAaaaaand “scattershot proxy censorship" at the imaginary behest of the PRC is ALSO, #“actually not provably the government”# either.

So, give up on the conspiracy theory that the USG is practicing censorship, re: American censorship is worth railing against as well unless you are willing to go whole-hog and call out the fanatical tribal-religious US pressure groups behind the USGs purported censorship.

I am not dog whistling about these guys, I am actively publicising the afore-inferred facts in the publics interest, because few will dare do it.

And, Pro Tip: WeChat/Weixin is more lively than Craigslist, or Backpage in its heyday if you use it respectfully, and everybody in China knows it.

But they DO occasionally get hot about all those overseas Chinese blowhards who rake in big US bucks, pay the tax only to Uncle Sam and his bi-racial transgendered wife Cindy, and send only mooncakes back to China, yakking on about “the eebul heethenz Chineses,” from GWs homestate (that guy a Republican, no less, and probably a newly jumped in christian)

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:7 FTFY

I will congratulate on being just coherent enough to make it appear that you have point, while simultaneously being incoherent enough to make it impossible to find anything to actually discuss.

At present, though, it appears you support China, hate the Jews, and somehow pretend to be on the side of the LGBT+ community.

I don’t know how that works, but okay.

AH Q.R/O/G/S says:

Re: Re: Re:8 FTFY


HATE® is bad, why would I want anyting to do with it?

And who appointed you as King Davids representative of "the Jews ”® whoever they are© (not fond of the dead Epstein at the moment, or Harvey Weinstein, both card carrying Democrat leaders, and ADLisrael representatives©)

I think we need new umbrella groups, because the current ADL® K 4 mobs and mobsters© are making idiots out of themselves©.

It really frustrates your Ich /Du Hegellian construct© when you cant pigeon hole someone so easily, doesnt it ?

Then again, why, exactly are you trying to do that?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 FTFY

"And? Does that make this any less censorship?"

The boundaries often blur. In the west it is considered The Right Thing (TM) when a journalist, for instance, exposes a politician or other incumbent power of malfeasance.

In China that’d be considered extremely rude. Better by far to bring the situation to the attention of other powers who can quietly address the situation without tearing the face off absolutely everyone involved.
In China you can count on absolutely everyone who matters suppressing any and all information which would cost another business or important person face. It’s a sort of censorship by consensus.

The executives at Wechat, when they order the shutdown on pro-democracy or hongkong-friendly accounts may be acting completely out of their own cognizance, in the perception that it is simply a good and ethical standard not to upset powerful people.

Chomsky wrote about this same phenomenon when it came to how western media would so very often polarize towards becoming an unofficial spokeschannel for whatever party their ultimate owner belongs to.

You could say that what China has is less censorship – indeed, that is employed surprisingly little given the authoritarian climate. instead what we have is a fully matured model of self-censorship.

Fran says:

Re: Re: FTFY

Just a quick look on Google…
"Facebook Chief Operating Office Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey will testify on Capitol Hill on the topics of eliminating fake news…."


"Facebook shuts down hundreds of Russian-linked accounts The company said the the Internet Research Agency used "complex networks of inauthentic accounts to deceive and manipulate people."

Well, I suppose its not censorship because it’s the US government asking facebook to close foreign accounts worldwide?

Fran says:

Re: Re: Re: FTFY

Just to clarify: I do not support either censorship. But I don’t understand the surprise coming out from the article. OTTs are loyal to their governments, to a very trouble extent, everywhere. US OTTs are actively fighting back against EU laws protecting privacy. They de-facto impose US law abroad, following Congress’ guidelines. Obviously China is learning fast and trying to do the same. This will only accelerate internet fragmentation.

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James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 FTFY

There are a number of strawmen in your arguments. But let us focus on this

Legal arguments are not ethical/moral arguments. Discussing that WeChat legally can ban people for whatever reason does not preclude discussing if WeChat should. The specific criticism at play is that WeChat claims to not be enforcing Chinese legal standards on international WeChat that they do on the more isolated local Chinese sub network, but that those claims appear to be false.

Techdirt has repeatedly argued that congress should not be in the game of determining or dictating Moderation decisions. The first article certainly implicates that standard, and Techdirt and the commentors have criticized the efforts to dictate moderation by the US.

However, I would love to know the search you made, so I can look at those articles. Because if I remember correctly, the second headline (or a similar purge) happened first, partly in response to the massive public outcry implicating Facebook’s business interests. It wasn’t about Facebook being loyal to the US or acting at the direction of the government (at least not entirely). The entire saga between Facebook and The government has been pretty publicly antagonistic in fact.

Facebook had the legal right and i think was ethically in the right. I do not like that Congress has been in the middle of it. But if pressed, I would highlight that WeWork banned individuals expressing uncoordinated individual opinions, while the Russian IRA accounts were spreading intentional disinformation in a complex and organized fashion that made it difficult to combat in the marketplace of ideas and impossible to address via the judiciary, providing a stronger ethical bulwark for their removal as a matter of policy.

False Equivelances and strawmen arguements that come up once a week do not make for robust debate

Fran says:

Re: Re: Re:3 FTFY

Honestly, I did not do much of a check on chronology, just a superficial look on a google "facebook removes accounts" search, giving news from 31 Oct 2019 like
By memory I think that the testimony in Congress happened before the 31st of october (I might be wrong).

But I think that we are discussing two slightly different points here. I do know that facebook has the legal right to terminate foreign accounts, wherever they want. Ethically, I don’t care much, as I am not a US citizen and personally I was financially hurt more by US fake news than from russian ones in the last ten years.

But even assuming that facebook did nothing wrong, the main point is this: OTTs are in bed with their respective governments, trying to enforce the laws and the views of their countries of origin. This is bad on so many levels, and while in the last few years it was US law to dominate (arguably not the best legal system in the world but hey, by far not the worst), now other jurisdictions are creeping into our phones as we install apps from the web. And if facebook can do it, why wechat should not? because their concept of ethics is different? Again, legally they probably have every right to terminate any of the users of their free app, like any other company offering stuff for free. I think that this will lead to an insurmountable conflict, where all terms of use, rights, etc will be so messed up and distorted to the advantage of this or that government, that gigantic opportunities of arbitrage, data leak will become the norm and cases like this article will become more and more frequent, until local regulators will panic and try to break the internet as a result.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 FTFY

Whether it is FB or WC doing it, if it seems like it was done poorly or one disagrees with the decision or policy, one may discuss their points of disagreement even when we agree the entity has every right to make the decision we contest.

(Whether or not something falls under "censorship", particularly in censorious contries, i find to be irrelevant. It isn’t like one can take a legal argument to the company or government anyway. Not sure why anyone above is agruing this abstract point, but academic discussiins are fine also.)

Fran says:

Re: Re: Re:5 FTFY

I don’t think its an academic discussion, when OTTs are softly enforcing the views of their governments abroad. It might be because of funding from the government, because of moral suasion, because of open dictatorships, or because of covert participation in intelligence data gathering, or whatever else.
The point remains: US global dominance is enforced also through american OTTs as witting or unwitting proxies, and China is now doing the same with their OTTs, app providers (next will be tiktok?) and perhaps their hardware manufacturers as well. But trying to dominate a new space in this very opaque way (congress calls, fb deletes accounts in Africa) gives all sort of justifications to do even worse things, in a negative spiral.

R/O/G/S says:

Re: Re: Re:2 FTFY

Interesting comments.

Right. China is only following the leader here.

And a,question: do you think internet fragmentation is a bad thing, or….?

I think its the best thing ever to happen to the internet, not least because it can help weed out FVEYd surveillance trolls and tribal sectarian proselytizers.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 FTFY

"And a,question: do you think internet fragmentation is a bad thing, or….?"

It certainly is. Fragmenting the internet turns any cohesion into a shit-show of confusion. It’s as if all of a sudden every cartographer would issue maps with their own special names for the streets and landmarks – and all of them would have to recognized as "official".

"I think its the best thing ever to happen to the internet, not least because it can help weed out FVEYd surveillance trolls and tribal sectarian proselytizers."

No, the trolls would, given enough resources (national intelligence agencies come to mind) be able to monitor the various networks just as well.
The average user, however, would be sort of screwed until every search engine and browser ended up trawling every separate namespace for the proper DNS lookup and had to start asking for manual resolution whenever there was a conflict.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Typical myopia from you people. As has already been posted earlier in this thread, a platform can boot anybody they (dis)like and it is not censorship. But when they do so at the behest of any government entity it becomes censorship. It’s quite simple, really. Why is this so hard for you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Because nobody has actually demonstrated that’s what happened. It’s all based on assumptions. You talk about myopia while just swallowing a story whole, as written, with no attempt at critical thinking, even when others point out there are missing facts. Did you even read the linked article?
Take your blinders off.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s all based on assumptions.

Tencent, a Chinese company, owns and operates WeChat. The government of China has a history of censoring online speech it doesn’t like. Companies that operate in China have a history of helping the Chinese government censor speech. These are documented facts.

The Chinese government likely doesn’t want to celebrate (or possibly even acknowledge) the election results in Hong Kong. WeChat has (apparently) banned users who celebrate those results. We can’t prove the Chinese government pushed for those bans. But we can damn well make the assumption based on what we know.

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TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

In the end, Stephen made the point that even in the absence of hard proof, it remains a reasonable assumption, when you infer from the available data, that this is an instance of censorship of voices that dissent from the government’s desires.

Or, put more simply: the assumption that this is censorship is a reasonable one.

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TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Correct, repeating a lie does not make it true. It being true, makes it true.

But I’m glad we came to an agreement! Those who disagree will speak out and say they disagree! And thus, we will speak out against censorship of pro-democracy speech, and proudly. Thank you for coming around to seeing this. It certainly seemed like you were arguing we shouldn’t speak out earlier.

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AH Q.R/O/G/S says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:total b.s.

You are full of shit, and know nothing about Chinese culture.

There is zero difference between how the the US based platforms like Fakebook and Bitter work with the “sensitives”to deplatform users, and how major China based platforms work with the sensitives too.

And remember, its the US and its FVEY pals that cant shut up about Russian propaganda online, and actively censor that content.


TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:total b.s.

You seem to be implying that we don’t also criticize the US for censorial overreach.

You also seem to be implying that we can’t criticize China for censorial overreach.

If this is correct, you would be wrong on both counts. As agreed upon elsewhere in the thread, those who disagree with China’s actions will speak out and say it – as much as you and others may wish they would not.

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R/O/G/S says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:total b.s.

TFG/AC (you guys are posting in tandem….careful):

What exactly are you saying? And why?

Yeah, go ahead, criticize China till the cows come home to roost- China doesnt f*cking care.

But to say that you criticize the ambiguous “US” about censorship is laughable, because the role of censorship in "our” democracy has been outsourced. Criticize THOSE censors.

Yes, we agree: Democracy is dead in America, and China sees it as the capitalist fantasm that it is-and exploits it in identical ways as others, and those others who I have repeatedly called out here, ranging from the ADL/SPLC/NGO/Religious think tank unspecified.Say THAT, talk about THAT.

But, no, your assumption is incorrect, within its limited binary I/O parameters.

As for others, let them criticize China all they want, OUTSIDE OF CHINA. Again, the amorphous boogieman China/Xi/Com Party doesnt give a rats ass either.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:total b.s.

"There is zero difference between how the the US based platforms like Fakebook and Bitter work with the “sensitives”to deplatform users, and how major China based platforms work with the sensitives too."

What does the word platform (3x) mean in the above context?
How is one "deplatformed"?
What is a "sensitive"?

R/O/G/S says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:total b.s.

ACs dont always DESERVE or EARN answers, considering that the majority of ACs are government /special interest trolls whose main goal is to niggle and quibble in order to directly STEAL the respondents time.

Besides, youre question was improperly formatted, as I did NOT use the word platform three times.

Please re -submit your querulous query.

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TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:

The US is a democracy only on paper now, and no one reads the Constitution anymore, so….

You’re not far wrong, given the many articles that TechDirt has posted regarding constitutional breaches by law enforcement, ICE, and the Trump Administration in general

Glad we agree on the current State of the Union. I certainly hope we can continue to call out, point out, and shine light on reprehensible behavior both at home and abroad – such as the occurrences documented in this article, and others, about multiple personages, American, Chinese, and Turkish (just for example).

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Ah Q.R/O/G/S says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think you have an AI bot folowing your posts. Its name is “AC”

But, yeah, perhaps we agree on some points generally, except I dont buy in to the Trump BAD=Hilary/O’Bama/Feely Joe Biden GOOD crap.

American democracy ended in 2001…or maybe Citizens United…or…Ed Snowden in Russia, while Woodward and Bernstein remained free….

Its all binary I/O in a Hegelian steroid can, and after living through the worst three decades in recent US free speech/due process/ history, I’m trying something new, and laughing hilariously at the unexected results.

(the average Chinese person has more daily freedom than any American in the lower 60% of the working poor and stands a next to zero chance of Big Brother giving a shit about his/her day to day life, much less taking a bullet in the back because some homo-erotically charged cop on steroids has odd fantasies. Women drive semi-trucks, and dig trenches in skirts and bright red high heels (no shit)…the list goes on????)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

"The US is a democracy only on paper now, and no one reads the Constitution anymore, so…."

Yes, some like to pick and choose selected text while ignoring the rest of the text and its context and this tunnel vision is not limited to the constitution as it seems to be applied by some universally.

R/O/G/S says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:re -submit

Which comment?

Please re -submit your query.

But if it referenced this: Why should a platform be forced to host speech its owners don’t like?

It calls to mind the other mantra that crops up here, words matter. words have consequences

In this case, China has simply followed the lead of its treacherous American counterparts and con-rades who have successfully enacted laws like SESTA /FOSTA /ETCeterasta along with censorship of platforms like Reddit (before it was Chinese owned ), and Twittercetera.

Call it whatever you want, but the mantra referenced above swings globally now. Great example.

And to answer the question re: to “host speech its owners dont like ” -I think that because many platforms and the infrastructure of the internet itself were subsidized by InQtel cash and actual tax dollars, which was the peoples money; and because platforms like Google etc. are so interlinked with government, and the data fully culled and exploited by government ….yeah, I think platforms owe a debt to the average Joe Blows to host speech as a public square sort of thing; and this should be written into law.

Otherwise, its kind of a snivelly, deceptive thing to hide behind corpirate platforms that get massive breaks from government , and yet their spokespersons in the One Percent and claim 100% private interests.

So, yeah, I think big platforms should host all speech, or be mandated to contribute to a platform space that will, even if its marked with a crude sign that says:

Be Careful, bad, dangerous scary words ahead

Then, a pair of crudely drawn arrows, one pointing left and the other pointing right and let the peeple decide for themselves which direction the first amendment is headed.

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