by Ryan Pickrell
With fears of Russia soaring to new heights, a CNN national security analyst is employing a classic argument used by the Chinese government to support censorship, arguing that social media sites should be held accountable for the content their users post to protect national security.
“Social media firms are aiding and abetting our enemies, providing them a firing platform,” retired lieutenant general and CNN analyst Mark Hertling wrote on Twitter Monday. He called attention to a Twitter post by former CIA analyst John Sipher, who promoted an article asserting that social media sites have become tools for Russia’s information warfare campaign.
Hertling, advancing the argument that social media companies should take responsibility for the content of their users and toss the first amendment out the window, suggested that social media sites are engaging in treasonous behavior.
.@john_sipher provides the key excerpt, below. In asymmetric warfare, words and disinformation are critical weapons…social media firms are aiding and abetting our enemies, providing them a firing platform. That could be called treasonous. https://t.co/3jqFxqie9X
— Mark Hertling (@MarkHertling) February 19, 2018
Following Hertling’s argument to its logical conclusion, there are some serious problems.
China, an example of a country that decides what online content is acceptable, argues that the purpose of the Great Firewall of China, the country’s massive censorship apparatus, is to “maintain social stability and national security.” It removes posts that are deemed subversive or treasonous.
The American left strongly believes that Russian bots, disinformation, and fake news swayed the 2016 presidential election in President Donald Trump’s favor, but the intelligence community has yet to find hard evidence proving that Russian meddling in any way affected the outcome of the election. Others argue that the purpose of Russia’s activities is to sow discord.
Either way, there have been repeated calls from the left for social media sites like Facebook to censor user content.
It is worth noting that China was cracking down on “fake news” before the term was popular in the West. “All levels of the cyberspace administration must earnestly fulfill their management responsibility for internet content, strengthen supervision and investigation, severely probe and handle fake and unfactual news,” the Cyberspace Administration of China said in an official statement on the issue in July 2016.
Interestingly, China is believed to fabricate a few hundred million social media posts to promote pro-Chinese government content each year.
China has used its sweeping cybersecurity laws to censor prominent social media platforms, everything from the QQ chat service to WeChat and Weibo, Chinese versions of Twitter and Facebook, social media sites which are blocked in China because they, for the most part, are unregulated platforms for free speech.
Chinese internet companies are actually required to sign a pledge to self-regulate their online content to “carry forward the rich cultural tradition of the Chinese nation and the moral code of socialist spiritual civilization.” Five years ago, China reportedly had two million people policing the internet, and that number is believed to have grown substantially over the years.
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