Zoom videoconferences are a staple of the coronavirus pandemic. Above, members of the Vermont House of Representatives met on Zoom in April. Wilson Ring/AP hide caption
Zoom videoconferences are a staple of the coronavirus pandemic. Above, members of the Vermont House of Representatives met on Zoom in April.
Now that the coronavirus pandemic has transformed Zoom from a corporate videoconferencing app into a ubiquitous tool for governments, schools, karaoke parties and even "Zoomsgiving" celebrations, the company is having to do the dicey work of deciding what is permitted on its platform.
And not everybody is allowed on it.
Zoom's rules say users cannot break the law, promote violence, be obscene, display nudity or support terrorism. The terms of service largely mirror those of larger tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google's YouTube.
And just as social media companies draw critics' ire when they flag a post or ban a user, Zoom is now being accused of censorship after refusing to host a speech by a controversial Palestinian activist. The episode is raising questions among technology experts about whether and how Zoom sessions should be regulated.
Terrorist link versus academic freedom
In September, Zoom blocked a speaking event featuring Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist group. Khaled, now 76 years old and living in Jordan, is notorious for hijacking a plane in 1969 and attempting to do it again a year later.
Rabab Abdulhadi, a professor at San Francisco State University's College of Ethnic Studies, planned an "open classroom" event in which Khaled was to participate.
But the night before the event, Abdulhadi received a message from the university's provost: Zoom was canceling the livestream over legal concerns.
Abdulhadi says she was told, "We might be implicated in criminal activities of material support for terrorism and that might include imprisonment and a fine."
Leila Khaled, an activist and prominent member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, speaks during an event in February 2018. Burhan Ozbilici/AP hide caption
Leila Khaled, an activist and prominent member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, speaks during an event in February 2018.
Abdulhadi didn't fear those consequences. She says her own lawyers had assured her that inviting Khaled to speak publicly is not tantamount to providing material support to terrorists, as broadly defined in a federal statute that prosecutors have used to arrest individuals for everything from fighting alongside terrorist groups to exchanging Twitter messages with them.
To Abdulhadi, Khaled is a feminist icon and radical nationalist whose planned talk on resistance movements had captured wide attention. Some 1,500 people had RSVP'd to tune in to the event on Zoom.
"They do not have the right to use their being a platform to veto the content of our classroom and thus actually impinge on our academic freedom," Abdulhadi said of Zoom.
Legally, Zoom cannot tell Abdulhadi what to teach. But it can decide who is and is not allowed to speak on its platform.
The Lawfare Project, a pro-Israel think tank and litigation fund, pressured Zoom to block the event, arguing that hosting Khaled was a legal liability. It organized a protest in front of Zoom's headquarters in September.
"If your interest is in having an academic discussion about controversial issues, go ahead. But that doesn't mean that you have the right to assist a designated terrorist group in carrying out their mission," Brooke Goldstein, the think tank's executive director, said.
The Lawfare Project claimed victory after Zoom shut down the event.
In a statement, a Zoom spokesperson said the San Francisco State University roundtable violated the company's terms of service because Khaled is a member of a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
"Zoom let SFSU know that they could not use Zoom for this particular event," the spokesperson said.
The company said there were 10 subsequent events planned related to Khaled. Khaled was set to speak at three of them. Those three events were also banned from the platform.
"The other seven events did not publicize any appearance from Ms. Khaled and were therefore able to be hosted on Zoom," according to the company's statement.
Officials at Zoom say the company does not monitor the content of video chats and took action on the planned Khaled events only after being notified about them.
"What does it mean for the future of communication?"
Zoom felt similar heat this summer after it shut down meetings commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre at the request of the Chinese government. But while social media companies have long been in the middle of debates over content rules, this is a relatively new predicament for Zoom.
"Welcome to the party, Zoom," said Daphne Keller, a former Google lawyer who is now with Stanford University's Cyber Policy Center.
There is a case to be made, Keller said, that Zoom's rules of engagement should be distinct from those of Facebook or Twitter because the services function differently.
"Do we want Zoom to be the content police or the speech police? Because we're all so dependent on them," Keller said. "They are functioning in a way that for previous generations the postal service or the phone company functioned."
Zoom may act like a phone company to millions, but it is not a utility. It can face criminal prosecution if it is not careful with the content it permits. But like other online platforms, Zoom is protected by law from civil lawsuits over what people say and do on its platform.
Faiza Patel with New York University's Brennan Center for Justice says there have to be rules, since the notion of good speech being able to counter bad speech falls apart when there is just so much content. And outlandish and conspiratorial material can often overpower everything else.
"I think we're all kind of struggling to figure out how to maneuver in this space, which is quite different than what we've had before," Patel said.
Patel said tech companies' terms of service usually espouse support for robust free speech and debate. Stopping someone from communicating to others can appear to contradict those values.
"That obviously creates a question about, 'Well, are you really allowing the full extent of the conversation?' " Patel said.
Back at San Francisco State University, Abdulhadi is looking for an open-source alternative to Zoom that does not, as she sees it, silence political speakers.
"It's a very serious problem to be vulnerable to the only means of communications in today's pandemic times," Abdulhadi said. "Because what does this really mean for the future of education? What does it mean for the future of communication?"
Editor's note: Zoom is among NPR's sponsors.
See the original post:
- Reno v. ACLU Challenge to Censorship Provisions in the ... - December 14th, 2021
- Students, Teachers, and Librarians are Fed Up With Book Challenges: This Weeks Censorship News, Dece... - Book Riot - December 14th, 2021
- Vox Cinemas To Produce 25 Arabic Features In Next Five Years; CEO Talks West Side Story Ban: Censorship Is A Reality In This Industry - Deadline - December 14th, 2021
- Letter: Censorship and the CPSDB - The Suburban Times - February 11th, 2021
- Chilling trend toward censorship - Chicago Daily Herald - February 11th, 2021
- Government censorship threats over TikTok spiked interest in VPNs - ZDNet - February 11th, 2021
- For a brief period, there was a platform for sensitive political debate in China. Then censors shut it down - CNN - February 11th, 2021
- Why I think censorship is important in the age of social media | Column - The Daily Collegian Online - February 11th, 2021
- Send a Big Message to Big Tech: Stop the Censorship - National Federation of Republican Women - February 11th, 2021
- Response to Censorship, freedom of speech article - The Tryon Daily Bulletin - Tryon Daily Bulletin - February 11th, 2021
- Facebook's depoliticization aimed at censorship of left-wing and socialist organizations - WSWS - February 11th, 2021
- Sundance 2021 Review: CENSOR, The Danger Of Confusing Fiction With Reality - ScreenAnarchy - February 11th, 2021
- Blacklisting And Censorship Are Hallmarks Of Repressive Societies - The Federalist - February 11th, 2021
- Censorship or conspiracy theory? Trump supporters say Facebook and Twitter censor them but conservatives still rule social media - USA TODAY - December 5th, 2020
- OIF Seeks Information on 2020 Censorship Incidents | News and Press Center - ala.org - December 5th, 2020
- In India, a Clash of Digital Innovation and Internet Censorship - CoinDesk - Coindesk - November 30th, 2020
- Censored Planet: University of Michigan research finds worldwide increase in internet censorship - WSWS - November 30th, 2020
- Twitter claims it has reversed ban of link to Sidney Powell's Georgia election lawsuit - Fox Business - November 30th, 2020
- Jeanine Pirro Thinks Big Tech is Censoring Her Text Messages - Mediaite - November 30th, 2020
- Censorship In The Biden Era - OpEd - Eurasia Review - November 30th, 2020
- Ex-Employee Confesses! Behind-the-Scenes of Google Censorship - The Liberty Web English - November 30th, 2020
- The attempt to censor Jordan Peterson shows the intolerance of the social justice generation - Telegraph.co.uk - November 30th, 2020
- PlayStation Reportedly Censoring PS5 Users on Twitter - ComicBook.com - November 30th, 2020
- Ted Nugents Wife Shemane Targets Instagram For The Recent Censor But She Puts It Again On Instagram To Find A Solution For Free Speech - Metalhead... - November 30th, 2020
- Censorship - Wikipedia - November 28th, 2020
- What Is Censorship? | American Civil Liberties Union - November 28th, 2020
- What is Censorship? - National Coalition Against Censorship - November 28th, 2020
- Censorship on social media? It's not what you think - CBS News - November 28th, 2020
- ICANN Can Stand Against Censorship (And Avoid Another .ORG Debacle) by Keeping Content Regulation and Other Dangerous Policies Out of Its Registry... - November 28th, 2020
- Ted Cruz digs in for congressional battle over censorship on Twitter, Facebook - Houston Chronicle - November 28th, 2020
- The Dangerous Inversions of the Debate Around Trans Censorship - The New Republic - November 28th, 2020
- Carter Estes: Effort to ban Trump officials from Harvard is a dangerous attack on free speech and education - Fox News - November 28th, 2020
- Meet the Censored: Andre Damon - WSWS - November 28th, 2020
- Donald Trump says Twitter censorship is a national security issue - Washington Times - November 28th, 2020
- In hybrid online-offline format, theatre fest explores the Unexpressed, censorship of womens bodies and artistic collaborations - The Indian Express - November 28th, 2020
- Was this censorship?: Noam Chomsky, Vijay Prashad ask Tata Lit Live after it cancels their discussion - The Hindu - November 28th, 2020
- Tata Lit Fest cancels a discussion between Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad, raising concerns of censorship - Frontline - November 28th, 2020
- Barcelona members strike back vs. Bartomeu: What does 'motion of censorship' mean, and what's next? - ESPN - September 18th, 2020
- What the *, Nintendo? This in-game censorship is * terrible. - EFF - September 18th, 2020
- Social media censorship in Egypt targets women on TikTok - The World - September 18th, 2020
- Trumps Partial TikTok And WeChat Ban Tip-Toes Into Chinese-Style Censorship - Forbes - September 18th, 2020
- Judd Apatow Criticizes Hollywood's Censorship For International Market: China Has Bought Our Silence With Their Money - Deadline - September 18th, 2020
- Bangladesh in the Shadow of Censorship The Diplomat - The Diplomat - September 18th, 2020
- Why is the government pushing unprecedented online censorship? - Telegraph.co.uk - September 18th, 2020
- Not Content to Censor Conservatives, Zuckerberg Now Seeks to Meddle in Election - National Legal and Policy Center - September 18th, 2020
- New Alliance to Track and Fight Censoring of Conservatives - CBN News - September 18th, 2020
- Reading the Evolution of Censorship and Sedition in India - The Wire - September 18th, 2020
- China's Influence on the Global Human Rights System - Human Rights Watch - September 18th, 2020
- China Isn't Hiding the Border Tensions With India From Its Public Anymore - The Diplomat - September 18th, 2020
- Call Trumps Attacks On The 1619 Project What They Are Censorship of American History - Forbes - September 6th, 2020
- Facebook is bringing an updated content censorship term for its users from October 1st - Digital Information World - September 6th, 2020
- Will Joe Rogan Have The Guts To Call Out Spotify For 'Censorship'? - CCN.com - September 6th, 2020
- Joe Rogans Spotify move condemned by fans over right-wing censorship claims - The Independent - September 6th, 2020
- Shadow banning and its role in modern day censorship - Cherwell Online - September 6th, 2020
- Apple reacts to censorship censure - Mobile World Live - September 6th, 2020
- TunnelBear Circumvents Iran VPN Block, Launches 10GB Monthly Offer in the Country - Business Wire - September 6th, 2020
- Facebook is changing its Terms of Service, and users are not happy - Windows Central - September 6th, 2020
- End the blacklist of the World Socialist Web Site on Reddit! - WSWS - September 6th, 2020
- Kahle: Upholding the public trust - The Register-Guard - September 6th, 2020
- Science protections must be enforceable | TheHill - The Hill - September 6th, 2020
- Reddit isnt happy about President Trumps anti-censorship executive order - Reclaim The Net - September 6th, 2020
- Forget TikTok. Chinas Powerhouse App Is WeChat. - The New York Times - September 6th, 2020
- The shaky upcoming national election environment can be fixed - JNS.org - September 6th, 2020
- Kyle Rittenhouse lawyer Lin Wood threatens to sue Twitter over censorship - Reclaim The Net - September 4th, 2020
- Finding human territory in a fractured world - The Tech - September 4th, 2020
- We dont believe in censorship: Controversial Aboriginal commentator to lead WA festival amid fear of backlash from Noongar people - WAtoday - September 4th, 2020
- How WeChat Censored the Coronavirus Pandemic - WIRED - August 28th, 2020
- Voter Advocacy Orgs Sue Trump Administration for Executive Order Threatening Social Media Censorship - EFF - August 28th, 2020
- Kuwait eases censorship laws after banning 5000 titles in last 7 years - The Indian Express - August 28th, 2020
- Buffy's Amber Benson on censorship, the musical, and Tara's death - digitalspy.com - August 28th, 2020
- Kuwait relaxes book censorship laws after banning thousands of titles - The Guardian - August 28th, 2020
- Film and Publications Amendment Act: Protecting, not censoring, our citizens in the digital age - Daily Maverick - August 28th, 2020
- Chinas wrath on Hong Kong is causing artists to self-censor - Reclaim The Net - August 28th, 2020
- Here are 5 excuses liberals have put forward in defence of modern day book burning, and why it makes them look like total morons - OpIndia - August 28th, 2020
- Jessie and Austins aunt vs TikTok the debate around censorship of Bodies in the Suitcase video - HITC - August 28th, 2020
- Artists Ai Weiwei and Fang Fang's depictions of the Wuhan lockdown - DW (English) - August 28th, 2020
- A Radioactive Plague: The secrecy and censorship surrounding civilian deaths from World War II - Milwaukee Independent - August 10th, 2020
- Censorship on the internet in 2020: The potential effects of TikTok - Film Daily - August 10th, 2020
- Wicker: Time to address online censorship - The Vicksburg Post - Vicksburg Post - August 10th, 2020
- Open Technology Fund Authorization Act - BORGEN - Borgen Project - August 10th, 2020