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Free Expression

Free Speech Traitors or Good Corporate Actors?

The WikLleaks saga polarizes nearly everything that stumbles into its orbit.  Businesses–seeking to distance themselves from the taint of a scandal–have scrambled to find plausible ways to sever whatever WikiLeaks ties they might have.  Those moves have been cheered or shouted down, depending on what side of the Wikileaks line you stand.

"The problem is, the truth lies somewhere in the middle," writes CDT President Leslie Harris in her ABC News column this month.

The decisions these businesses have made "adds a complex new element to an already complex controversy over leaks of government information. And that new element is the role of the powerful private actors that in one way or another impact the distribution of — and access to — content online," Harris writes.  

And when trying to assess these corporate moves you quickly run into a classic, "one one hand/on the other hand" scenario:

On the one hand, the Internet has flourished based on this system in which companies may adopt and enforce the terms of service they deem appropriate for their business.

On the other, when terms of service are used by a growing set of companies to justify cutting off controversial political speech that few believe is illegal for a third party to host, it is right to ask whether these policies are being applied in a consistent and transparent manner. However, when a takedown is justified on the grounds that a government official said the content is illegal, it is right to be alarmed. You don't have to side with WikiLeaks to see the dangers ahead.

The full column can be seen on ABC News by clicking this link.