U.S. representative Ted Poe, a Republican from Humble, has taken it upon himself to protect his country’s digital borders by suggesting that Twitter “institute a new policy of removing accounts affiliated with terrorist groups.” So now we know that Representative Poe must not read Buzzfeed or be very in tune with Internet news, or he’d realize that Twitter has been suspending ISIS accounts since last June and has suspended thousands more over the past two days.
Nonetheless, Poe is upset that foreign terrorist organizations, specifically ISIS, are able to freely use Twitter—which he would like to remind us is an American company—as a platform to spread their message to millions of people. “Terrorists should not have access to an American-controlled social media platform so they can kill, rape, pillage, and burn,” Poe said on the House floor on Tuesday. “Why are American companies and the U.S. government allowing social media platforms to be hijacked by terrorists?”
Well, technically, there’s not really any “hijacking” going on, since ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts aren’t necessarily “illegally seizing” the Internet in order to get their message out. Twitter is a public place! Kind of like a modern-day town square, where everyone can shout their mundane microblog posts to a collection of friends and strangers. Poe would just be a bit more comfortable if certain people—i.e., terrorist organizations—weren’t allowed to join in on the conversation. Poe is a big defender of the Bill of Rights, arguing, in fact, that “no one supports the Bill of Rights more than I do.” But the way he sees it, free speech has its limits! Which is why he has called upon Twitter to more carefully monitor and remove accounts that appear to be affiliated with terrorist organizations.
Poe is not the only member of the government to speak out about ISIS’s Twitter presence recently: his speech came a day after John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department, announced he would “consider criminal charges” against those who might be “proliferating ISIS social media.” But a lawyer for the ACLU, writing about a previous case, says this approach can gnaw away at our freedom of speech because it equates “rhetorical support with ‘material support.’”
(Photograph by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)