The Chilling Effect of ACTA

Proponents of SOPA, PIPA and their treaty version, ACTA can deny that these bills call for internet censorship, but a lie by any other name remains a lie.

The chilling effect on free speech is already been felt with Twitter’s announcement today, that it will censor tweets “if required by law.”  While the internet blackout send SOPA and PIPA to their graves, ACTA is more far reaching since it is a multi-lateral treaty. The timing of Twitter’s announcement may be coincidental.  Yet, it is interesting in light of the recent events concerning internet censorship.

The additional caveat is that Twitter will “only” censor accounts of people who live in the countries that enact those laws.  According to their blog:

Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries’ limits was to remove content globally. Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.”

Well that’s reassuring.  At least, when people’s content gets censored, Twitter will tell that person when and why. To be fair, censorship is not something that Twitter is embracing with enthusiasm. Rather, it’s a question of complying with censorship laws or having those censorship laws applied against Twitter.  As Twitter notes, and other people have argued, this is the beginning of the chilling effect on freedom of expression.

“One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user’s voice. We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t. The Tweets must continue to flow.”

Twitter also acknowledged the severity of the attack when it decided to expand its partnership with

This is not merely a question of copyright law, as noted by ZDnet.

The problem is governments in reality do not like their citizens to be ‘free and open’ in what they say, despite freedom of speech and expression laws. Even here in the United Kingdom, we are barred from talking about certain subjects, and banned from even saying that there is a ban in place on certain subjects.

The chilling effect on free speech means topics, or anything else the government wishes can be censored. Talking about topics being censored can be censored.  While Zdnet’s observation is in conjunction with the law in the U.K., the potential for the same sort of censorship anywhere else, including the United States, is very real.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to conclude that this will also have a chilling effect on internet activism, such as that by OWS and other critics of the crony capitalism that has corrupted our political system. While the Tea Party and other fringe elements on the right may applaud what this does to freedom of expression for the 99%, censorship is a slippery slope once it has been established.

If you like the sort of free speech we see in places where people are jailed because they didn’t cry hard enough or long enough when their dictator dies, you’ll love this.

The Twitter community plans to do something about it with a black out of twitter to protest its censorship policy.  The blackout is planned for tomorrow (Saturday January 28th) for twenty four hours.  A day of twitter withdrawal is a small price to pay in the name of preserving our first amendment rights.

Reuters made the following observation which is reminiscent of the skeptics prior to anti-SOPA blackout.

It’s doubtful that enough people will stop using the service to have an impact, nor would a brief Twitter shutdown damage its business. However, the threats are clearly more about sending a message than crippling the now ubiquitous messaging platform.

Let your tweets in opposition to censorship be heard using the hashtags, #twittercensorship, #twitterblackout and  if you wish, #Fuckcensorship.

As observed by FON:

The anger began as news of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), PIPA and now ACTA have been quickly passed in various countries, under different names. The public is expressing that Freedom of Speech and Expression for all trumps the ‘anti-piracy laws’ for the few.

The skeptics said nothing would happen with the SOPA blackout and they were wrong.  Let’s make sure they’re wrong this time too.

Let’s show them how wrong they are by joining the Twitter blackout!

Image: BlottR

2 Replies to “The Chilling Effect of ACTA”

  1. My vote for Nov 2012? None of the above.

    BTW if people change their country to world on twitter they can get around some of the censorship for now

    I am not surprised that twitter will bow to the dirt in this world. I am shocked Obama signed it. Truely. 2 partys, one cause

  2. It was the Bush administration that signed on to this, not Obama. People need to remember that Twitter is a private company, so there is no expectation of freedom of speech or expression. Just as they have a right to run their business their way, people have a right not to use their service. I believe that a lot of people will be invoking that right on the day of the blackout.

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