Two recent tech stories—both appearing in Reuters—should make civil libertarians wary for the future: Social media sites and tech companies are partnering with watchdog groups and law enforcement to share information about so-called extremists using their platforms.
PayPal, for instance, will work with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to identify hate groups that use the platform to raise funds. Recall that the company previously denied accused rioters facing charges relating to the January 6 Capitol attack the ability to solicit donations for their defenses: It would seem that PayPal's plan is to facilitate even fewer of these transactions. This is potentially concerning since the ADL defines hateful content in the broadest possible terms.
Meanwhile, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other sites will be expanding their use of a centralized database that compiles extremist content for the purposes of coordinated de-platforming. At present, the sites collude to take down content that promotes Islamic terrorism—ISIS and the Taliban, for instance—but in the future, it could be deployed against right-wing extremism as well.
"As the database expands, the risks of mistaken takedown only increase," said Emma Llanso, director of Free Expression at the Center for Democracy & Technology.
In both of these cases, information may eventually be shared with law enforcement.
Users of tech platforms obviously don't enjoy full free speech and due process protections, since private corporations are not bound to follow the Constitution. But to the extent that federal authorities are encouraging these changes—more coordinated takedowns, the collection of data, and an overly broad definition of what counts as extremist—we have the right to speak out against government encroachment.
This week, I am guest-hosting The Hill's YouTube show, Rising, and talked about these issues: