Previously on this blog, I talked about NPR's firing, and demonization, of commentator Juan Williams, after Williams admitted that he gets nervous when he sees passengers in Muslim garb on airplanes. In that blog entry, I argued that even those criticized benefit from the freedom of speech that makes criticism possible. That blog entry is here.
I was shocked when I first learned that many countries in Western Europe don't enjoy freedom of speech. That gave me a bad feeling. Was Germany still so prone to Nazism that it couldn't allow what I guessed was a small minority to express their Nazism?
I find it really weird and sad that England, where human rights took so many historic, celebrated giant steps, like the thirteenth-century Magna Carta, bars Michael Savage from entry – on the basis of Savage's criticism of Islam.
Of the banning of Michael Savage from entry into England, "the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wrote: 'America still has a constitutional protection of free speech, and I have been amazed... to see how few people in England are willing to stick up for that elementary principle... a country once famous for free speech is now hysterically and expensively sensitive to anything that could be taken as a slight.' In The Guardian, Catherine Bennett wrote: 'The ban on Savage is so far from being a comprehensible act, so staggeringly capricious and stupid, as to defy evaluation.' While Sam Leith wrote: 'Barring this shock-jock from Britain risks turning a rabid blabbermouth into a beacon for free speech.'"
Oh, England. How sad for you that you have come to this.
And how about Germany, and Germans? Are they ready for free speech? Can they handle it? If not now, when?
The fear of those who institute bans on free speech seems to be that if bad ideas are allowed to be discussed openly, they will be so attractive that they will overpower good ideas.
Is that right? Isn't Nazism such a very bad idea that if it competes in the free marketplace of ideas, it will lose?
Or not? And, if not, why not?
Also, doesn't banning open discussion of some ideas make them immediately more attractive to some? Doesn't banning open discussion of some ideas protect those ideas from serious scrutiny? If you can't talk about an idea, you can't talk about how bad it is.
By the way, when I was in a hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, recently, I attempted to access this blog. Initially, I could not. I received a message saying, "Access Denied. This page uses the word 'Sieg Heil.'" Those words do appear on the blog, but not in a laudatory way. I do not recommend that people greet each other using the words "Sieg Heil." The hotel computer's blocking of this blog demonstrates the clumsiness of internet censorship.
I did, though, find a way to get around that firewall. I posted the update from Madison from that very hotel computer that at first wanted to deny me access to my own blog.
A recent controversy over Twitter was covered in the New York Times. Below, excerpts from the Times article.
October 18, 2012
Twitter Blocks Germans' Access to Neo-Nazi Group
By NICHOLAS KULISH
BERLIN — Twitter waded into potentially perilous territory on Thursday when it blocked users in Germany from access to the account of a neo-Nazi group that is banned by the government here.
The move was the first time that Twitter acted on a policy known as "country-withheld content," announced in January, in which it will block an account at the request of a government. But the company cracked open the gates to a complex new era in which it will increasingly have to referee legal challenges to the deluge of posts that has made the site so popular.
The company said the goal was to balance freedom of expression with compliance with local laws. "Never want to withhold content; good to have tools to do it narrowly & transparently," Alexander Macgillivray, the company's chief lawyer, wrote on Twitter.
A German spokesman for the company confirmed in an e-mail that it was the first time the policy had been used, although Twitter does not as a matter of policy announce government requests to block an account. In a "transparency report" issued earlier this year, the company said it had received six such requests but had not, for reasons it did not specify, acted upon them.
Uwe Schünemann, the interior minister for the state of Lower Saxony, where the neo-Nazi group is based, applauded the decision to block the Twitter feed, calling it in a statement "an important step."
Twitter neither shut down the group's account nor deleted the group's posts. It blocked them for users only in Germany, who see a message that reads "Blocked" and "This account has been withheld in Germany," along with a link to more information about the policy.
The decision to block the German feed was a relatively easy one, given that the group is banned and that the use of Nazi symbols and slogans can be criminally prosecuted. The more difficult question is how broadly and under what rules the policy will be applied by a company with users around the world.
Twitter employees are not combing through the hundreds of millions of messages posted each day searching for offensive material, but are responding only to government requests, beholden to free-expression laws in the countries in which it operates. That makes the company potentially subject to manipulation by authoritarian governments, rights advocates say.
"Where it really will be dangerous is in repressive regimes where Twitter is a very important means of communication between political dissenters, and where laws are interpreted by people who would interpret them in a politically biased fashion," said Svetlana Mintcheva, the director of programs at the National Coalition Against Censorship in New York. "What, for instance, if the president of Belarus decides to suppress the tweets of a theater company which is critical of him?"
Authoritarian governments may wish to stifle the voices of dissidents just as ardently as German officials hope to silence the extreme right. In some countries, religious leaders may seek to prohibit messages they deem to be blasphemous…
Full text of the article is here.