The headline on an article in the New Times today reads, “Verizon Rejects Text Messaging From an Abortion Rights Group.” Verizon has teamed up with the political philosophy of the Chinese Government in saying it has the right to block “controversial or unsavory text messages”.
Verizon has rejected a request by Naral Pro-Choice America to allow its customers to sign up to receive text messages. The New Times notes that the other major wireless carriers have allowed their customers to sign up to receive text messages.
Verizon, by refusing the request to set up the text messaging program, prevents all messaging by Naral – including those that for example ask someone to contact their US Senator to oppose pharmacists refusing to provide US approved birth control or opposing Bush’s global gag rule against birth control for the world’s poorest women.
What wasn’t clear from the article was how Verizon arrived at its decision that the Naral text messages were controversial. Does Verizon, or would it, also ban text messages from any Pro Life group then as a result of this decision? It was a blanket denial for Naral.
By its action Verizon is saying it has the right to censor any group it deems controversial. I wonder if Verizon had existed in the South in 1860 if they would have banned texting by any group opposing Slavery as this was surely controversial.
Or would they if they had existed in 1890 have opposed any groups advocating for the Right of Women to Vote as this was surely controversial then.
Entering the world of corporate censorship is pretty scary to say the least. It puts Verizon in the category of the form of censorship that China does, prohibiting the free exchange of ideas. Some of this censorship is self imposed by business like Goggle so they can do business in China. For example Goggle Blogoscoped found about 9% of a list of 10,000 commonly used words were self censored by Goggle from the Chinese, including words like democracy, democrat, democratic, political, politics, rights and repression.
Is the issue of gun control controversial in Verizon’s eyes? Would Verizon accept text messages from the National Rifle Association and ban those from Cease Fire? Or would it ban all messages from groups advocating or opposing any gun use issue.
What about a group sending out messages about the Iraq War? Will it accept messages from some political groups and not others or ban all messages by groups with a position on this controversial issue? What about the recent controversy over MoveOn.org and General Petraeus? Would it now ban text messaging from MoveOn.org but allow those of a group calling itself Swiftboat Veterans for Petraeus? I made up the swiftboat name and am not aware of such a group but how does Verizon as a private company intend to make decisions as to which organizations to censor and which issues are controversial?
The original question of Verizon banning Naral text messaging actually has a swiftboating analogy. The company, Creative Response Concepts , that produced the swiftboat ads against Kerry is actually involved in the abortion /”Pro Life” issue, as AlterNet reports in a post entitled “Swiftboaters Recruited to Push Abstinence”
Creative Design Concepts has been hired involved by the National Abstinence Education Association to run a public relations campaign supporting abstinence only education policies. Does Verizon’s rejection of Naral’s controversial text messages also mean that the National Abstinence Education Association and Creative Response Concepts are also prohibited from using Verizon’s text messaging program or would Verizon allow them to do so if they wanted to.
Verizon has created a huge public relations blunder and in fact has now contributed greatly to the rationale for net neutrality. As the NY Times notes
“The dispute over the Naral messages is a skirmish in the larger battle over the question of “net neutrality” — whether carriers or Internet service providers should have a voice in the content they provide to customers.
“This is right at the heart of the problem,” said Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at the University of Michigan law school, referring to the treatment of text messages. “The fact that wireless companies can choose to discriminate is very troubling.”
In turning down the program, Verizon, one of the nation’s two largest wireless carriers, told Naral that it does not accept programs from any group “that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.”
OK I am a Verizon user and so is my family. I am going to take Verizon at their word saying that they not accept message programs from groups that may be seen as “controversial or unsavory to any of our users” I am sure I am not alone in saying that I as a user find the Republican Party’s agenda for America offensive and I find the Iraq War offensive. So please , Verizon, do not allow any group that supports the Republican Party or the Iraq War to set up a text messaging program. I do not consider the Democratic Party controversial so please allow any Democratic organization to text. Thanks for listening and responding.
Addendum: For the record, according to AlterNet, the Swift Boat Ad Group, “Creative Response Concepts’ other clients have included the Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, the Discovery Institute (a Seattle-based think tank that promotes “intelligent design” creationism), Regnery Publishing (a conservative publisher with David Limbaugh, David Horowitz, and Oliver North among their authors’ list), the Coalition for Patient Choice (a group advocating against managed care reforms, and which includes the conservative Eagle Forum as a member), the Media Research Center (a conservative media watchdog organization which recently honored Rush Limbaugh with the “Buckley Award for Media Excellence”), and a group called USA Next (which was formed as an alternative to the “liberal activism” of the AARP).”
Update – As reported on ClickZ this afternoon Verizon has reversed itself and now will allow text messages from Naral Pro Choice America. Naral issued a press release noting that over 20,000 messages protesting Verizon’s action were sent to Verizon in just 2 hours..