Today, MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow published an opinion piece in the Washington Post calling on companies like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to do more to stop terrorists from inciting violence. To make his case, Farrow cited the incitements to genocide by Rwandan media that led to a horrific bloodbath 20 years ago.
“The graves are only half empty; who will help us ﬁll them?” Twenty years ago, that rallying cry on Rwandan radio helped explode ethnic enmity into one of history’s worst atrocities. In today’s Iraq, another vicious conflict between a formerly-empowered ethnic minority and a long-subjugated majority is causing the deaths of thousands. At its heart is another mass media appeal to bloodlust on radio’s modern-day equivalent: social media. And this time, the world may have a chance to stop what it failed to in Rwanda.
The Sunni Islamic State insurgents, now locked in a deadly struggle with Iraq’s Shiite majority, excel online. They command a plethora of official and unofficial channels on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. “And kill them wherever you find them,” commands one recent propaganda reel of firefights and bound hostages, contorting a passage from the Koran. “Take up arms, take up arms, O soldiers of the Islamic State. And fight, fight!” adds another, featuring a sermon from the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The material is often slickly produced, like “The Clanging of Swords IV,” a glossy, feature-length film replete with slow-motion action scenes. Much of it is available in English, directly targeting the recruits with Western passports that have become one of the organization’s more dangerous assets. And almost all of it appeals to the young: Photoshops of Islamic State fighters and their grizzly massacres with video game-savvy captions like, “This is our Call of Duty.”
But officials at social media companies are leery of adjudicating what should be taken down and what should be left alone. “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter,” one senior executive tells me on condition of anonymity. Making that call is “not something we’d want to do.”
This is a good argument, and one that I’ve made many times at LGF; private companies like Facebook need to do more to prevent the spread of hate speech by users of their services, especially when it involves incitements to violence or genocide. These kinds of restrictions are the purview of private companies to impose, not governments, and especially not the US government.
But Farrow’s op-ed drew the attention of the all-seeing eye of civil libertarian hero Glenn Greenwald, who immediately attacked Farrow with his usual obsessions: the US and Israel.
.@ggreenwald Do you not think the world should have jammed the Rwanda broadcasts? This is about direct incitement in sectarian powder kegs.
And it was at this point that Glenn Greenwald tipped over into what can only be described as a right wing authoritarian position:
Reply to @RonanFarrow Please answer my question first, but for yours: no, I don't want private corps deciding what political speech is OK.
Consider what Greenwald is advocating here; he’s actually saying that private companies should not be allowed to determine what types of “political ideas” they disseminate.
Leaving aside the absurdity of calling genocidal incitement “political ideas,” this is exactly counter to the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which makes it very clear that only private companies should be able to restrict the types of speech they publish.
So who should decide these issues, if not private companies? Is Greenwald actually arguing that the US government should censor hateful or genocidal incitement? Well, it’s hard to know, because when pressed on the issue he simply decided to attack Farrow again as a mouthpiece for Israel — a very weird argument indeed.
As usual, Greenwald sleazes his way out of directly confronting the issue with non sequitur attacks like this. But his statement that he thinks private companies should have no right to decide what types of speech they promote is very revealing, indeed — because it’s exactly opposite to the usual libertarian line of argument.
In his haste to attack one of his enemies, Greenwald argued himself into an unconstitutional corner, and then tried to deflect the argument rather than defend it.
A classic performance by the Mighty Greenwald.