Antony Blinken, who is the US Secretary of State, has said that other countries are using the internet to shut down free speech. He went on to say that American online platforms that cause “harms” will be held responsible. Blinken didn’t seem to notice the contradiction when he said, “More countries are putting up firewalls and shutting down access, using the internet to try to control speech, shut down dissent, and spread misinformation and disinformation.”
Blinken said at the Summit for Democracy hosted by the Biden administration that there needs to be a balance between openness and security, as well as between “protecting speech and preventing incitement.” He didn’t say what “incitement” means or who gets to decide what it is.
During the pandemic, the number of times the government used the words “misinformation” or “disinformation” went up quickly. It’s a controversial idea because the federal government gets to decide what qualifies and what doesn’t. In other words, it is easy for governments to just call facts “misinformation” if they are inconvenient or hard to deal with.
Also, governments are looking for more ways to control what people can read on the internet more and more often. Sixty governments, including the US, signed an agreement last year to work together to stop online “disinformation.” The agreement was also full of double-talk, since politicians said they would protect free speech while also putting limits on what people could read.
The Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act, or RESTRICT, was given to Congress to protect national security from communist China. This will go against TikTok, which is linked to the Chinese Communist Party, and is being pushed in that way.
But the law is vague and broad, so it could be interpreted to give the federal government a lot of censorship power and allow it to ban any foreign platforms in the future. So far, both Republicans and Democrats have backed RESTRICT, and the White House has praised it.