Vernuccio’s View: Global Censorship Increases

America’s First Amendment set a standard and a goal for the rest of the planet, establishing freedom of speech as a key standard of an advanced civilized society.

However, as appreciation within the United States continues for this achievement wanes, those portions of the globe with governments eagerly seeking any excuse to silence critics sense a shifting paradigm, and are moving to clamp down on dissent. They are using all the tools at their disposal to not only attack free speech within their own borders, but across the world as well.

Radio Free Europe reports that “A controversial Russian law on the Internet came into force on November 1 amid warnings from critics that the legislation is an attempt to increase censorship. The so-called ‘sovereign Internet’ law …requires providers to install equipment that could route Russian web traffic through points that are controlled by the state. It also includes provisions on the creation of a Russian domestic domain-name system… critics have warned the law will lead to censorship across wide parts of the Internet and allow for greater surveillance of Internet users by Russian intelligence agencies…Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Russian government gained ‘even greater control over freedom of speech and information online’ when the legislation went into effect.

China has been the most powerful assailant. Using its financial might, it has successfully attacked its governments’ critics not only at home but even within America as well, as certain NBA players recently discovered. Mike Gonzalez, writing for the Chicago Tribune   notes that “Russia has drawn a lot of criticism for its heavy-handed manipulation of U.S. social media, and deservedly so. But almost unnoticed, another nation has been trying to control what Americans think by censoring free expression at our universities, the internet, media, movies and even sports clubs: China… China’s obsessive actions represents nothing less than an attempt by a foreign power to shape the views of a democratic electorate whose opinions, translated through the ballot box and other means, shape public policy. Beijing gives millions to universities in exchange for silence on its human rights transgressions, forces Hollywood studios to submit their productions to Chinese censors and buys radio stations here. More recently, it censored what NBA players and executives can say about China, even threatening NBA Commissioner Adam Silver with “retribution sooner or later.”

In a speech at Georgetown University, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg discussed China’s growing influence: “China is building its own internet focused on very different values, and is now exporting their vision of the internet to other countries. Until recently, the internet in almost every country outside China has been defined by American platforms with strong free expression values. There’s no guarantee these values will win out. A decade ago, almost all of the major internet platforms were American. Today, six of the top ten are Chinese… It’s one of the reasons we don’t operate Facebook, Instagram or our other services in China. I wanted our services in China because I believe in connecting the whole world and I thought we might help create a more open society. I worked hard to make this happen. But we could never come to agreement on what it would take for us to operate there, and they never let us in. And now we have more freedom to speak out and stand up for the values we believe in and fight for free expression around the world.”

Russia and China are not alone, either in their attempts to suppress dissent at home or in their efforts to stifle criticism abroad. As the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail notes, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is suing a French magazine for criticizing his incursion against the Kurds in Syria.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government. @frankvvernuccio

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