I never could have imagined that anyone could be raising that question for something like Twitter, which most folks thought fairly amusing a couple years ago.
But as the New York Times’ Nick Bilton (@nickbilton) reported this morning, Representative Ted Poe, a Texas Judge turned congressman, along with six other congressman sent a letter to the F.B.I. demanding that Twitter bar access to Hamas and Hezbollah, two militant groups on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.
We freeze their bank accounts, the logic goes per Poe, so we ought to freeze their Twitter accounts too.
Failure to block access arms them with the ability to freely spread their propaganda and mobilize in their war on Israel. The F.B.I. and Twitter must recognize sooner rather than later that social media is a tool for the terrorists.
By having a voice on the site, they are amassing more followers and the security of the United States. (emphasis added)
Not so fast says Michael Dorf, a constitutional professor at Cornell, looking at the material support provision.
The problem here is the process by which the government decides to classify a terrorist organization.
The more immediate set of concerns is that not everything that these groups do is terrorism, and there are people whose speech could be restricted by some of these laws.
It’s hardly a slam dunk that the statute covers Twitter or Facebook. (emphasis added)
Be careful what you wish for warns Harvard Law Professor, Jonathan Zitrain. Social media is a wonderful listening tool.
The F.B.I. is going to learn more about Hamas and any organizations, by having them operate in an open environment, than if its voice is driven to proxies and underground back channels, which would inevitability happen immediately.
Terrorist groups would not have first amendment coverage or standing to bring suit. Better constitutional law minds than I could confirm whether Twitter could claim protection. And Twitter has a record of doing what it can to empower ‘voices of democracy,’ even if those voices don’t look like democracy to everyone.
Interesting times now that Twitter has gone so mainstream as a communication medium that it can draw the ire of a Texas Congressman. A couple years ago? Hardly.