Material Support

If Senate Republicans have anything to say about it, the definition of ‘material support’ to designated terrorist organizations would extend to digital territory, in the form of social media according to the Hill recently. 

“Allowing foreign terrorist organizations like Hamas to operate on Twitter is enabling the enemy,” Poe said in an e-mailed statement to The Hill. “Failure to block access arms them with the ability to freely spread their violent propaganda and mobilize in their War on Israel.

“Anti-American foreign terrorist groups around the world are doing the same thing every day. The FBI and Twitter must recognize sooner rather than later that social media is a tool for the terrorists.”

Given Israel’s recent propaganda efforts tweeting the November assault and assassination in Gaza, there is no question that social media has become a mainstream avenue for bypassing the standard filters between message creators and recipients. Clearly, Twitter, as a private entity, is more than welcome to decide with whom it should do business and whom it should not, but the impact social media has as a tool for democratic expression cannot be ignored.  As more or less unfiltered media distribution channels, the question of free expression online is about to hit center stage and different governments have dramatic differences of opinion on where restrictions lie.  

Beyond returning to the long-running questionable list of designated organizations, this poses a nasty problem for technology platforms rather far beyond just social media.  Ignoring the mythical level of monitoring required to manage the reductio ad absurdum for such a thing – Hamas absolutely cannot be allowed to find a better pizza place on Yelp – how far into restrictions on free speech would this extend?  Twitter (and Google’s unofficial “Don’t be evil”) is very much a company based on the idea of a public forum, but it is certainly still a private entity.  In comparison to setting up a press and distributing pamphlets, the distribution channels for todays revolutionary statements all look to be massive tech companies.  The arrangement leaves authors subject to not just the corporate policy of the distribution service, but also to the government to which the company is responsible for taxes and legal acceptability.  Should the now-deposed governments across North Africa have been able to simply declare protestors social media outlaws and ban any supporting tweets from spilling on to their citizens’ daily feeds?  Many online services already provide regional filtering and the announcement from Twitter earlier this year confirms that being allowed to do business in a country is eventually going to come down to a monetary decision, comparing the value of operation to the cost to unrestricted discourse.