. Absent an underlying sense of threat or insecurity in the system, even the most revolutionary speech is only words, scarcely menacing and unworthy of a reaction that would attest to its significance. Restrictions on speech meet with least resistance when populations at large feel buffeted by the same angst that torments policymakers. Citizens are often willing to trade away liberties if they are convinced doing so will keep threats at bay.
In Spain, a two-man puppet show performed in Esperanto about a squatter, a witch, and a landlord, with themes touching on Basque separatism and terrorism, led to the arrest of the puppet masters after a Madrid show last month. The marionette operators were charged with incitement to hatred or violence and “glorifying terrorism” and sent to prison without bail in a ruling defended by Madrid’s mayor. They now face up to four years in prison. This assault on cultural freedom is not an isolated incident. Spanish rap musicians and poets have been similarly targeted as of late for offensive and supposedly incendiary speech.
In addition to expanded powers that now include conducting house raids, imposing house arrests, and stripping away the citizenship of dual-nationality terrorism convicts, newly enacted laws also extend the government’s reach into the realm of personal data, allowing powerful algorithms to sift through reams of metadata to identify suspicious contacts and patterns. Although this provision was dropped in the most recent extension, the original three-month emergency law (imposed directly after the November attack) empowered the government to “control the press,” including radio, films, and plays. According to Mother Jones, in those first few days, French police also barred journalists from interviewing witnesses and asked social media networks to censor photos of the killings.
Drawing from the playbook of repressive governments including Iran’s, the law authorizes measures including keystroke logging and requirements that service providers install “black boxes” that alert authorities directly of suspicious online activity. Those measures have been repudiated by independent rights groups, as well as the U.N.’s prestigious 18-member Human Rights Committee.
Responding to such pressure, Google, Facebook, and Twitter announced in December that they would work to delete anti-migrant sentiments voiced on their networks within 24 hours of request, imposing a level of control over ideas and viewpoints that goes far beyond what the companies’ own corporate content policies would allow. Two German lawyers are now pressing for a criminal action to fine Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg $163 million for failing to prevent users from posting anti-Semitic screeds including Nazi symbolism, as well as other hate speech.
— Suzanne Nossel, foreignpolicy.com, 17 March 2016