In the last few weeks, e-mails began trickling to Jihad Watch Director Robert Spencer that his Web site had been blocked on the senders' office computers as "hate speech." The same blocking was also happening in some instances against the site memri.org, a translator of Arabic-language media. The sites are being blocked by private firms such as General Electric and JPMorgan Chase, plus a few state and local government agencies, whose filtering services had somehow decided the sites were "hate speech."
"Hate speech" exists on these sites, all right, but not the kind that filters should be blocking — not as long as there exist doubletalkers who say all the right things in English but breathe anti-Western fire in Arabic. These sites shed much-needed light on this phenomenon, and as long as private firms are allowing political content on office computers, they should not be duped into blocking some. How they got blocked in the first place is a story of political correctness run amok. But it is also a story of what happens when citizens speak out in opposition.
First, the good news. Over the last four days, blocks have been lifted at Fidelity Investments, Whirlpool and a handful of other major companies, Mr. Spencer reports, following a wave of complaints by users. The complaints trigger a corporate reality check, which causes some to reconsider. "People need to realize that this kind of filtering is politicized, just like anything else. Leftists will be willing to use filtering services" just like any other medium, Mr. Spencer says. Various and sundry pro-Islamist Internet opinionists slap the "hate speech" label repeatedly, hope it sticks and sometimes, it does. But with a counter-campaign, their work can be undone.
The other piece of good news is that federal agencies, especially the ones we'd most like to read such material, have not been duped. The sites are available on computers at the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon and the State Department, according to our correspondents. Whether they are actually read there is a separate matter with a likely depressing answer. But at least the material is available.
We don't doubt that the corporate blockers do their blocking in many cases unwittingly through politically unsavvy filtering services which in turn find themselves on the receiving end of various political campaigns. All these companies simply want to avoid social or political controversy.
But it is not really possible to avoid taking a position here, irrespective of these firms' rights to block whatever they choose to, as long as the policy is fair and consistent. Essentially, these firms must either block all political speech — and we would counsel strongly against this heavy-handedness — or they would need to allow a wide range of material through, with only very obviously pornographic or incendiary material being blocked.
With any other approach, firms will be caught in the type of politicization that Jihad Watch and MEMRI know all too well. It does not serve anyone's interests.