DON GONYEA, Host:
Major American companies may, indeed, have more freedom than the government to act against WikiLeaks - and against other speech they don't like. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.
LAURA SYDELL: MasterCard, Visa and PayPal all stopped accepting donations to WikiLeaks. Jennifer Stalzer, of MasterCard, says the situation was just too sticky.
M: Given the serious nature of allegations and broad concerns raised by many regarding the activities of this organization, we believe it was prudent to suspend acceptance. And that's what we've done.
SYDELL: But Clay Shirky, who teaches in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, thinks terms-of-service agreements give companies too much power.
P: Every corp. counsel, at every large organization, is basically paid to write a Web terms of service, which reads: We can do anything at any time for no reason, with no announcement and no recourse.
SYDELL: If you have ever signed up for any Web service - PayPal, Facebook, Amazon, iTunes, Twitter, Gmail; the list goes on - you have accepted a terms- of-service agreement.
P: We get a world where basically, if you can make any kind of speech just be too much of a hassle, it can be taken off the Internet.
SYDELL: Tim Wu, a professor of law at Columbia, thinks Twitter is hypocritical because it permitted Iranian activists to plan on their site, but not WikiLeaks supporters.
P: There are people who should demand of Twitter: What are you doing? Since when are you in the business of deciding who and who isn't a good civil disobedience movement?
SYDELL: Marcia Hoffman says it's not just corporations trying to shut people up.
M: What we're seeing right now are a lot of situations in which people are simply trying to silence speech that they don't like - on all sides.
SYDELL: So far, the structure of the Internet continues to make it hard for anyone to really censor anyone else, says Columbia professor Tim Wu.
P: You can make it hard for them to get money, and you can make it hard for them to get Web server space. So you can basically be ostracized, but not destroyed.
SYDELL: Laura Sydell, NPR News.
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