Opt-in Censorship?

As I said to Ken Magill for his recent article regarding Truthout: From what I know of how spam blocking works, and how ISPs make the determination regarding what mail to block, I don't think Truthout's issues (being blocked at Hotmail and AOL) relate to their politics. I think they relate to their opt-in procedures, bounce handling, feedback loops, and whitelisting. The issues are technical, not political.

However, there's another case of this in the news, and it sure sounds a lot more political: Verizon blocking opt-in SMS messages because they relate to the topic of abortion.

Regardless of Verizon's incorrect initial stance to the contrary, it's about consent, not content. Those of us working in the email realms have known this for many years. You should be free to talk about whatever controversial topic with whomever you want. If somebody wants emails from you examining the abortion debate, you should be free to send those emails. ISP spam filtering policies generally agree with this. Truthout complains that it doesn't work that way, but it does. If people want your mail, they don't complain, and you don't get blocked.

Can you imagine the outrage if Verizon installed a filter on your cell phone (or your email) that made it disconnect every time you tried to say the word “abortion”? It would never be allowed. They'd lose millions of customers. There would be screaming and lawsuits. But somebody at Verizon apparently decided that it was okay to do something similar with SMS.

I have no clue about the legality of doing this, but ethically, it's offensive.

From the article:
Verizon Wireless is quick to point out that their prohibition had been based on the topic of abortion itself, not on any particular side within that debate. That is, the company does not want to look as though it was taking sides in the abortion debate itself.

When you curtail that debate, when you prevent that discussion, you're taking a side, and you're telling your customers that if they disagree, they're not welcome to use your services. Yuck.

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed.
"The decision not to allow text messaging on an important, though sensitive, public policy issue was incorrect, and we have fixed the process that led to this isolated incident," said Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson in a press statement.

Why was this even open for discussion? Why was this not a simple, clear-cut question of permission?


  1. What's even more ironic is that our 4th-largest spamming network by volume is Verizon's. It's fine for the to block texts that some anti-free speech individual wants to block, but they can't find a way to stop all those spamming bots on their networks.


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