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Free Expression

Use Twitter, Go to Jail

New York resident Elliot Madison took a page from the Iranian protester playbook by using Twitter to help direct participants in the recent protests of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh away from police lines. The use of Twitter by the Iranian people was a stunning success, highlighted by the global media and even encouraged by the U.S. State Department when that agency contacted Twitter officials and asked them to delay scheduled maintenance that would have taken the social networking site offline at the height of the Iranian protest. Although the Iranian people were lauded for their innovation and courage, all Madison got was an arrest record and some time cooling his heels in a Pittsburgh jail cell, and all for having the temerity to use Twitter as a tool of free expression. The free expression aspect was apparently lost on the cops. They raided Madison’s hotel room, cuffed him and took him to jail; later the FBI raided his house in Queens. Madison is a self-avowed anarchist, he even had pictures of Lenin and Marx on the walls of his home (which the FBI, for some absurd reason, choose to confiscate during their raid), and now he suddenly finds himself the poster boy for free speech in the Web 2.0 world. CDT’s Leslie Harris writes about the irony of Madison’s arrest and the circumstances behind it in her latest Huffington Post article. Not only is the case a violation of Madison’s First Amendment rights, Harris writes, it also provides political cover to the darker angels of the world stage:

"The next time protestors take to the streets of Tehran or Beijing, armed with cell phones and twitter accounts, we should not be surprised when countries crack down hard on those tweeting the revolution and point to Pittsburgh as a precedent. And America will be relegated to the sidelines, rendered mute by our own foolish actions."