Unfortunately, as of August 6, 2020, Executive Censorship Orders are now a reality in the United States of America.
This is a reminder that F-Droid.org was built to be an open, censorship-resistant alternative to the Google Play store for Android devices. It's easy to install, and it's an important way to protect your mobile devices against Executive Censorship Orders, for the free & open apps installed from there.
I agree that banning a specific company or companies is a bad idea, but I think that calling this a censorship order is a misnomer, since it's a business regulation not a speech regulation.
The right answer is to ban activity (data collection and transmission). This would have a real effect on privacy, rather than just be political showmanship.
This is no simple business regulation. Aside from not being equitably applied as you say, there are no reasonable remedial actions identified in the EO that ByteDance can take to come into compliance. The only plausible outcomes appear to be:
- the order is not implemented for legal or political reasons, or
- TikTok is banned from app stores, impacting the free expression of millions of users.
That's what makes it a censorship order, in my view.
The force of your position escapes me. So far as I understand it, the content which is being created & shared, & the manner in which it is being transmitted, has nothing to do with the matter. The whole question is whether the "making available of a vehicle for self-expression" is in fact irrelevant to the basic purpose of TikTok, mere window dressing for a massive, intrusive surveillance & potentially foreign-intelligence operation. Not that it would be unique!
There's a big difference between regulating surveillance capitalism, or selectively and arbitrarily censoring specific actors. The latter is what's happening here, with potentially massive consequences on speech by millions that is currently accessible, no longer being accessible in the US.
This is one of those situations in which both actors are bad. TikTok is a surveillance app with a video sharing system built on top, and I also agree that the US Govt has provided no mechanism by which it can be brought into compliance, and also that this is a selective action against a single entity. It's a petty and clumsy way of handling what are essentially sanctions.
Petty & clumsy is the name of the game, to be sure. But I don't really see how it constitutes censorship, anymore than (say) banning a certain ink, widely used by newspapers, because it proved to be toxic, or prohibiting the use of leaded gasoline, even though skywriting & banner-towing aircraft use nothing else.
I just don't see that "censorship" reasonably extends to "any government action which restricts freedom of expression, even incidentally". For instance, if a water main breaks, the street must be closed until repairs can be effected. If a parade was scheduled for that street during the closure period, the freedom of expression of the paraders is infringed upon, but to call it censorship is stretching the definition out of any recognizable shape. Much the same here.
Clearly we draw the lines differently. I'm curious what constitutes censorship in your book:
1) China pushing Apple to pull apps from the app store because they provide access to banned books:
2) India's censorship of 60 Chinese services/websites in the context of its larger censorship regime ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_India#2020 )
3) Trump's order, if it is enforced and interpreted to seize the tiktok.com domain?
In my view, all are unambiguous censorship.
I would argue that any word has to have a circumscribed definition in order to be useful in communication. In the case of "censorship", to me, the boundary lies, not with the question "does the action restrict freedom of expression in any way", but with "does the action target the content being published or the manner of its publication?" If the answer to that is "no", then it's not censorship.
So, to your (1), the answer is "of course" ; to (2), "I don't know".
If you "don't know" if something like India's blanket ban of websites and services is censorship, I would argue that your definition is of very limited use, and likely to be rejected by most organized opponents of Internet censorship.
What circumscribes censorship for me is that it 1) suppresses speech, 2) provides no or very limited recourse for those whose speech is suppressed. This is true in all the cases we've discussed, but not e.g. for the GDPR or other regulations.
Your definition seems to suggest that a blanket ban of websites that can be framed to be "apolitical" in nature is not censorship. So more comprehensive suppression of speech is somehow less problematic? What of oppressive regimes shutting down the whole Internet to preserve "law & order"?
What of China's bans of websites for economic reasons -- independent of content -- to grow homegrown competitors to Silicon Valley firms?
What _was_ Trump's motivation for pursuing TikTok so aggressively. Can you say?
- teens organizing against him in Tulsa? https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/21/style/tiktok-trump-rally-tulsa.html
- supporting a sale to Microsoft & US hegemony?
- taking control of the "tough on China" narrative in an election year?
We cannot hinge definitions upon guessing games. It's censorship no matter the motivation or "target", because its _effect_, if enforced, is speech suppression with limited or no recourse.
(I'll have to add that it matters, of course, that Trump's proposed ban is a _government action_. There are a lot of cases on the Internet where people cry censorship and https://xkcd.com/1357/ applies. But this Executive Censorship Order is a threat of old-school top-down government Internet censorship.)
I really feel that we need different language for those kinds of cases, so that we can preserve "censorship" for the particular case of "government actions directed at the suppression or discouragement of free expression which displeases those in power".
Partly this is because those others will usually be part of a cluster of related policies, some of which impact free expression to a greater or less extent, some of which will not.
I certainly agree that it's important to examine motivations and patterns of censorship, even if they are difficult to establish with certainty as the TikTok case shows (Tulsa teens vs. economic motivation vs. ...).
Unlike India and China, the US has a strong track record of Internet freedom. That's what makes Trump's Executive Censorship Order so remarkable, and so important to challenge, so it does not become a template for more censorship, whatever the motivation.
But I object to any muddying of the waters of what censorship is. To me Trump's order is unambiguous in what it seeks to achieve: censorship at a significant scale. And it will impact marginalized communities who use TikTok as an expressive platform, no matter what reasonable objections one can raise against its business practices (e.g., https://www.wired.com/story/prison-tiktok-behind-bars-still-posting/). It doesn't matter what went through Trump's brain when he commissioned the order to establish those facts.
It seems to me that "muddying the waters" is exactly what you are doing. Now, I'm not necessarily saying that I place the bar at the level of the "Night & Fog Decree", but you lose important information when you conflate "state actions which incidentally affect freedom of expression" with "state actions which target freedom of expression". It might be an error on the side of caution to use an expansive definition of the latter, but the distinction must be acknowledged.
To give an example : if the Venezuelan government refuses to allocate foreign currency, under its exchange-control scheme, to newspapers for the purchase of paper, you would report that as "censorship". In fact you would not be wrong to do so, because part of the reason is to control distribution of information, & suppress public opposition. But you would thereby miss the larger story, the total collapse of the bolivar, & with it the national economy.
If there is a larger story around Trump's Executive Censorship Order that I'm missing that is more important than the suppression of speech at an unprecedented scale in a country with a strong tradition of Internet freedom, I would like to hear what that story is. Even if there was, that would not change the nature of the order.
"I appreciate SDF but it's a general-purpose server and the name doesn't make it obvious that it's about art." - Eugen Rochko