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Washington — YouTube responded to MEMRI’s demands with a mixed approach. The YouTube website already has an option for users to flag content promoting terror. YouTube then decides whether or not the flagged content should be removed. In many cases, YouTube has, in fact, removed terror-related Hezbollah videos from its platform. But it has declined to adopt a blanket ban on content posted by Hezbollah or Al-Manar.
Twitter, self-described as “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” has consistently declined to respond to such demands, or to block Hezbollah accounts.
Earlier this year, Twitter drew the ire of Jewish groups for rebuffing their calls to block content that the groups condemned as anti-Semitic and hate-filled. The website has also rejected calls by foreign governments, such as Pakistan, to take down tweets that allegedly offended Islam, or to adhere to any censorship rules. Twitter also fought back against attempts by lawmakers to have accounts by Afghanistan’s Taliban and Al-Shabaab, a Somali group connected to Al Qaeda, blocked.
Twitter’s press department did not return emails requesting comments for this article.
Activists have argued that removing Hezbollah’s content from Twitter wouldn’t infringe on free speech but would merely comply with U.S. laws that limit ties with terror organizations. As a private organization, Twitter can cut off Hezbollah and other groups without having to worry about violating the First Amendment, which deals only with government infringement on freedom of expression.
But forcing Twitter to do so “would be an uphill battle,” warned Ken Paulson, president and CEO of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Twitter, he explained, is a hybrid entity that could be viewed either as a content media like other websites or publications, or as a so-called “common carrier” utility, similar to a telephone company. Trying to force Twitter to block Hezbollah through litigation or prosecution, he said, would be like going after cell phone providers for allowing Hezbollah to use their lines.
The road forward, some suggest, is not through the courts but through public pressure. “Twitter is clearly vulnerable to public outrage,” Paulson said. Stalinsky added, “At a certain point, as the pressure increases, they will have to adopt a clear policy and explain it.”
Contact Nathan Guttman at firstname.lastname@example.org