(New York, NY) — Last week, Zoom preemptively prevented two webinars organized through the University of Hawaii and NYU from taking place on its platform, ostensibly because they were set to feature Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.  

“Zoom has become the de facto technology platform for a vast swath of meetings and events, but its growing market power should not be treated as an invitation to exercise the power of censorship” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. “There are good reasons why our telephone companies and internet providers do not act as message police, allowing access to their platforms only for those whose ideas and viewpoints are pre-approved. Khaled’s past involvement in terror acts and embrace of terrorist ideologies are abhorrent. But for a technology provider offering a utility service to apparently single out one individual to be personally denied access to a meeting platform is an indefensible and unwarranted intrusion into the free flow of public discourse. Will Zoom now be background-checking every individual who logs on to a Zoom meeting to ensure they have never espoused a terrorist ideology? Which ideology might be screened out next? Or will there be a values pledge that we are all required to sign before we can click on ‘join meeting’ in order to do our work or connect with others?

“By taking this action, Zoom has anointed itself an arbiter of permissible speech based on a spurious legal theory that offers thin cover for the company’s capitulation to calls to expunge unpopular speech,” Nossel continued. “This is a remarkable example of selective enforcement of an unwritten set of ‘rules.’ This decision also sets a precedent that will only embolden calls to de-platform other speakers.”