Users of social media have been increasingly reporting that their accounts have been either censored, blocked or suspended during the past year. Initially, some believed that the incidents might be technical in nature, with overloaded servers struggling to keep up with the large and growing number of accounts, but it eventually emerged that the interference was deliberate and was focused on individuals and groups that were involved in political or social activities considered to be controversial.
At the end of last year a number of Russian accounts on Facebook and elsewhere were suspended over the allegations that social media had been used to spread so-called false news that had possibly materially affected the 2016 presidential election in the United States. Even though it proved impossible to demonstrate that the relatively innocuous Russian efforts had any impact in comparison to the huge investment in advertising and propaganda engaged in by the two major parties, social media quickly responded to the negative publicity.
Now it has been learned that major social media and internet service providers have, throughout the past year, been meeting secretly with the United States and Israeli governments to remove content as well as ban account holders from their sites. The United States and Israel have no legal right to tell private companies what to do but it is clearly understood that the two governments can make things very difficult for those service providers that do not fall in line. Israel has threatened to limit access to sites like Facebook or to ban it altogether while the U.S. Justice Department can use terrorist legislation, even if implausible, to force compliance. Washington recently forced Facebook to cancel the account of the Chechen Republic’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a Putin loyalist that the White House has recently “sanctioned.”
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