Charles Evans Hughes and the Theatre (Internet Incitement)

by edwardmroche

It was the famous Charles Evans Hughes (1862 – 1948), who had studied at Columbia Law School and taught with Woodrow Wilson at the New York Law School, that defined one of the principles of free speech under the U.S. Constitution.  He wrote in Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919) “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force.”

Does the same apply to the Internet as a whole?  Is it possible to use the Internet for incitement?  In a recent article Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former foreign minister of Israel, criticizes the current Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for claiming that many of the recent attacks of Palestinians against Israelis are caused by Islamist websites.  The Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper also has warned that ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Arabic: الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام‎)) is using the Internet to recruit people from around the world into their cause.

In the article “The Cyber Intelligence eChallenge of Asyngnotic Networks“, the authors discuss how the Internet and social media, combined with other forms of communication, allow the formation of self-organizing networks.  They argue that principles of neuroscience can be used to model these networks and predict when an event will be triggered.   In their view, the formation of these networks does not need to be conscious, not directed by any single or centralized authority.  Events can simply happen as people in various places, such as terrorists, are simply inspired by the messages they receive.

It is doubtful that the world’s public policy community will ever manage to develop an international treaty that deals with the emergence of self-organizing communication networks that inspire terrorism.  Many countries simply will develop technologies of the “kill switch” to shut off the Internet if there is an emergency.  The problem is that advanced societies are so dependent upon the Internet, it is not feasible to cut off the Internet, because doing this would immediately collapse the economy.

This is another reason why an international convention for the control of cyber weapons is so important.  In the nuclear age, people worried that intercontinental ballistic missiles would be used to drop bombs on their society.  Now, the threat is that the entire economy and communications fabric of a society would be wiped out or severely damaged.  Instead of real death, we would experience a type of “cyber death” – an inability to communicate or even exist as we know it today.  For many this threat may seem abstract, but when we examine the behavior of the younger generations, it is easily possible to see their complete reliance on Internet technologies.  The threat of cyber war is much more disruptive than it may at first appear, and that is why it must be prevented.