Well, here you have it: a full court press, as it were, on behalf not of twitterati but those who have been there, done that, and are doing it – and representing their colleagues unable to do it.
At one level, I am straddling this discussion. I certainly see how Twitter needs to protect its local staff and traveling execs from nations free and less so with local laws. And the public procedure outlined is estimable; the country-specific technology a smart way to limit censorship. So, if Twitter wants an office in Paris and the French ban Nazi chat (and, soon, Armenian genocide denial), there’s an issue. I would be mightily happier if it were being addressed after @Jack got arrested at CDG. The problem with introducing a general rule ahead of time is, as a general rule, twofold. First, general rules to apply to France and Bahrain and North Korea and the PRC need to recognize huge distinctions. Second, the political world is a world of politics, in which statements – even neat and tidy ones drafted at the urging of a general counsel (as I suspect this was) – have significance that has little connection with the intent or narrow purposes of those who issue them.
So: how does this statement sound, say, in Bahrain, where a slow-burning but sometimes very violent version of the Arab spring is in process? Both to bloggers and tweeters trying to get out the message, and to authorities being paid to stop them? Or Egypt, of course, where there both has and hasn’t been a revolution.
Point is that in the dynamic world of speech yearning to breathe free an essentially bureaucratic, anticipatory announcement that will save Jack at CDG if the French Nazis begin to let loose on his service has already depressed and made anxious many thousands of brave freedom fighters, emboldened authorities in places he will never go anyway, and set a terrible example as other speech services feel free to follow suit.
The plain answer is for U.S. speech companies (that’s the category we should be using here, forget social media and microblogging and the rest; this is about speech) – U.S. speech companies need to adopt four principles.
1. The gold standard is U.S.speech norms.
2. Only in specific and dire situations will they operate as censors. These situations are dynamic. Google’s concessions in China and then move to Hong Kong illustrate this well.
3. They need to work together. There is already a network in place focused precisely on this issue, or there was, but plainly it has failed. We need co-operation at the top level round a table with free speech advocates like the ACLU and Reporters without Borders and the chief executives of our major speech companies and, say, a leading senator from both sides of the aisle. They should set the tone.
4. We need above all some intestinal fortitude. Perhaps speech network staff will go to jail from time to time as the dynamic of freedom works its way out, and western governments and publics will weigh in in their defense. Tolerances need to be probed and tested. And leadership needs not to come from the general counsel’s office.