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October 30, 2020

NYU Professors Accuse Zoom of Censoring Political Speech

 

The Zoom headquarters in San Jose, California. Photo: Wikipedia.

NEW YORK—Video conferencing provider Zoom shut down a New York University webinar about censorship by tech platforms, including Zoom, that was being held via the service, according to a statement released late last week by the NYU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

The October 23 online seminar, which was subsequently held privately and recorded, was specifically about Zoom’s censorship of a San Francisco State University Zoom event featuring Palestinian rights advocate Leila Khaled. NYU’s webinar was sponsored by the university’s Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, and the Gallatin Human Rights Initiative, and among other speakers featured recent MacArthur Award recipient Fred Moten, a professor in NYU’s Performance Studies Department.

Describing Zoom’s censoring of a Zoom meeting about Zoom censorship as a “sick comedy,” the statement noted that “this action raises serious concerns about the capacity of a corporate, third-party vendor to decide what is acceptable academic speech and what is not.”

NYU’s administration assured the members of the AAUP that it had no prior knowledge of the Zoom cancellation. In shutting down the SFSU event and, a few weeks later, denying access to hosts of a similar event at the University of Hawaii, Zoom answered to pressure from Jewish and Israel lobby organizations including StandWithUS and the Lawfare Project, who objected to the participation in those events of Khaled, who is affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, designated a terrorist organization by the US.

According to The Algemeiner, a Zoom spokesperson contended that the NYU AAUP event shutdown was not related to the topic of censorship by tech platforms. “Zoom is committed to supporting the open exchange of ideas and conversations and does not have any policy preventing users from criticizing Zoom. Zoom does not monitor events and will only take action if we receive reports about possible violations of our Terms of Service, Acceptable Use Policy, and Community Standards.”

The spokesperson continued, “Similar to the event held by San Francisco State University, we determined that this event was in violation of one or more of these policies and let the host know that they were not permitted to use Zoom for this particular event.”

The NYU chapter of the AAUP has asked the university’s administration to issue “a strong public statement” denouncing Zoom’s censorship of the webinar, noting “The shutdown of a campus event hosted on an NYU Zoom account is a clear violation of the principle of academic freedom that universities such as NYU have historically strongly supported. Allowing Zoom to override this bedrock principle, at the behest of organized, politically motivated groups, is a grave error for any university administration to make, and it should not either escape censure or be allowed to become a new norm regulating online campus life.”

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