We have long discussed the rapid decline of free speech protections in the West. I have long argued that the West appears to have fallen out of love with free speech, which is more often viewed as a rising scourge rather than a defining value in some countries. That trend was reinforced by Israel this week, which became the latest country to criminalize some statements on social media. A new law would give the government the ability to move against any speech deemed as threatening or encouraging violence to be “removed immediately.” The law would cover the dangerously ambiguous category of language deemed “incitement.”
Despite an agreement by Facebook to work to create teams to identify such speech, the government insisted on expanding its authority over social media. We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have even seen comedians targets with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here).
Israeli civil libertarians have denounced the bill as an obvious rollback on free speech. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, head of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Center for Democratic Values and Institutions, called the bill “an assault on freedom of expression on an international scale.” Governments are moving aggressively to regulate social media and the Internet under varied rationales from hate speech to fake news. The result is an ominous threat to the Internet which remains the single greatest contribution to free speech in the history of the world. It is a threat to many governments and politicians who want to control powerful forums for free speech. That is not to say that there is not hateful speech on these sites. However, the threat of government censorship is far greater than the threat from open and free discourse.