Should Hezbollah And Al-Qaeda Be Allowed To Use Social Media?
“Shouting fire in a crowded theatre” is a well known paraphrase of a U.S. Supreme Court decision. It serves as an example on the limitations of free speech, when the speech is imminently dangerous and has no conceivable purpose. In a time where we are seeing real revolutions, due in part to digital media, it’s worth noting that everyone today has digital media to amplify whatever noise they’d like to make – good or bad – and can utilize it without a filter.
It is on the heals of American backed pressure for Wikileaks to shut down – including pressuring financial companies not to process payment, threatened prosecutions and the like – that a close friend of mine for many years, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, is all over the media today threatening to sue Twitter for allowing terrorists to use the digital media network. She is smart, focused, and a formidable opponent raising a valid point. If the US government deems these organizations illegal and they can’t raise funds – why can they amplify their message freely to Americans?
Leitner’s organization, The Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, is a civil rights organization dedicated to “combating the terrorist organizations and the regimes that support them through lawsuits litigated in courtrooms around the world.” They have done a lot of good worldwide to fight terrorism via “lawfare” – utilizing the courtroom to battle Anti-Western interests. Hezbollah, al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab and others violate American law by using Twitter. Here is a breakdown of terrorists utilizing social media.
The ACLU says “the government can’t force private companies to censor lawful speech just because the government doesn’t like the speech or the people making the speech.” Does that mean I can go online and scream fire in a crowded theatre ? Can I behave however I want simply because I am online and hidden behind a computer screen ?
While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently cited President Obama as believing that “the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become”, one wonders where the administration would stand if mass rioting were sparked by digital media. UK authorities say rioters used social networks to coordinate mass civil disobedience earlier this year in London, and state prosecutors in Mexico have accused people of terrorism and sabotage by claiming that their Twitter posts helped spread false rumors about a school attack, leading to real-life violence.
Its no secret that the terrorists are public relations savvy and very concerned with brand and image. As was recently reported, Al-Qaeda is concerned about the baggage associated with that name, and is increasingly going by the name “Ansar al Sharia” because of concern about their brand. American PR Agencies have represented Qaddafi, Assad, and just last year Qatar hired a leading U.S. PR firm to lobby for the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.
Darshan-Leitner stopped the second Gaza flotilla earlier this year, and has won lawsuits against Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Authority. I am sure Twitter’s going to be answering this one pretty soon. I’d venture that a modern “fire in a crowded theatre” discussion may be coming to a courtroom near you very soon.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, a Top 25 PR Agency and author of best-selling PR book “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations,” available for purchase here.