Friday, February 17, 2017

Twitter is becoming an 'Orwellian nightmare'

Forbes has a worthwhile analysis of Twitter's latest moves towards open, outright censorship of its users.

Earlier this morning social media and the tech press lit up with reports of users across Twitter receiving half day suspensions en masse as the platform abruptly rolled out its decade-overdue  hate speech filter to its platform. The company has refused to provide details on specifically how the new system works, but using a combination of behavioral and keyword indicators, the filter flags posts it deems to be violations of Twitter’s acceptable speech policy and issues users suspensions of half a day during which they cannot post new tweets and their existing tweets are visible only to followers. From the platform that once called itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party” these new tools mark an incredible turn of events for the company that just two years ago famously wrote Congress to say it would do everything in its power to uphold the right of terrorists to post freely to its platform. What does Twitter’s new interest in hate speech tell us about the future of free speech online?

. . .

The question of censoring speech versus ideas is not an idle one ... the mere possibility ... is absolutely frightening from the standpoint of freedom of expression in the United States. Here in the US it has been a long-standing tradition that any citizen may criticize their elected officials even in strong terms without the risk of being silenced. Even legal concepts like libel make special accommodation for accusations against public figures like politicians that bear on their official duties. However, in some countries criticism of the government is actually illegal and can result in harsh prison sentences even for a first offense.

If Twitter really did suspend a user for criticizing a politician and exercising his free speech rights to argue that he believes that that politician broke the law, that presents a truly frightening dystopian 1984 world in which criticism of the state could be simply wiped from existence. Imagine anyone who posted any comments critical of an elected official being suspended from Twitter and potentially banned outright with all their posts deleted. It is not hard to imagine governments throughout the world exploring how they, too, could force Twitter to eliminate critical speech and given that Twitter now has a production deployed tool, it can no longer argue that adding such filters would pose insurmountable technical challenges.

In short, while better than previous efforts, the way in which Twitter has rolled out this new system and the potential for its abuse by governments, companies and others to stifle legitimate criticism has opened Pandora’s box and moved us a giant leap towards the end of free speech just when we need it more than ever.

There's more at the link.

I note that Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, is the same individual who spoke of observing, among his company's users, "A lot of the same patterns we’ve seen during the Iranian Green Revolution and the Arab Spring".  He's an out-and-out opponent of President Trump and anything other than progressive, far-left-wing political causes.  Last year he appointed a 'Trust and Safety Council', almost exclusively made up of progressive fellow-travelers, to help "ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely on Twitter".  The actions of that council have done nothing to inspire confidence that free speech is their goal.  Indeed, one critic has gone so far as to call it an 'Orwellian nightmare'.

What's striking isn't just that there may be a political bias in those decisions. The more serious problems are a lack of due process and explanation, and a striking imbalance between what happens to semi-prominent Twitter personalities and the countless run-of-the-mill Twitter trolls who are still at large ... The Trust and Safety Council can't actually protect users from abuse; its only power is stop controversial users from issuing controversial opinions on Twitter.

It appears Twitter supports free speech from only the left side of the political, social and cultural aisle.  Centrists are, at best, tolerated.  Those to the right are 'throttled', 'shadowbanned', censored, or kicked off Twitter altogether.  One report claimed:

Twitter maintains a ‘whitelist’ of favoured Twitter accounts and a ‘blacklist’ of unfavoured accounts. Accounts on the whitelist are prioritised in search results, even if they’re not the most popular among users. Meanwhile, accounts on the blacklist have their posts hidden from both search results and other users’ timelines.

Our source was backed up by a senior editor at a major digital publisher, who told Breitbart that Twitter told him it deliberately whitelists and blacklists users. He added that he was afraid of the site’s power, noting that his tweets could disappear from users’ timelines if he got on the wrong side of the company.

Again, more at the link.

Twitter may claim that it isn't bound by the First Amendment, because it's a private corporation, not a government entity.  In that it is, of course, quite correct.  Nevertheless, its actions demonstrate that it is not only not bound by the First Amendment, but that it holds it in contempt.  It openly boasts about its efforts to stifle free speech under the guise of taking action against 'abuse and harassment'.  Those efforts are clearly and visibly applied, for all the world to see, against only one side of the political spectrum.  As far as Twitter is concerned, it appears that abuse and harassment, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder - namely, the company itself.  Truth and objectivity are irrelevant.

That's why I won't use Twitter.  I regard the company as completely untrustworthy.  I've switched to the new startup Gab instead, which emphasizes free speech at all costs, eschewing censorship as a corporation and leaving it up to individual users to self-censor what they would, or would not, like to see.  Furthermore, the company openly undertakes to never censor any speech except "illegal activity, spam and abuse", which are clearly and openly defined for all the world to see.  There are no 'secret clauses' or gotchas.  That's the way it should be, IMHO.


(P.S.:  If you're on Gab, follow me at @PeterG.)


Timbo said...

Seems like Dorsey wants to convert Twitter into an echo chamber.

dorfer21 said...

Has any one ever brainstormed the idea of using the leftist tactics against twitter? Specifically the lawsuits used against christian/conservatives business owners that refuse to bake/create arrangements for ceremonies that they disagree with?

the whole fight fire with fire tactic seems appropriate here...

just spitballing... any thoughts?

CarlS said...

The common question with all organizations and people who have converted to the Liberal free speech (Rights) hating platform is: What caused the change?

One might, given the many exposés of abuse by politicians of intelligence agencies, suspect that those agencies have seized the reins of power and are now abusing politicians, by threatening personal exposés, and that said pols and spys have partnered up to blackmail and extort to gain control over the intel offered by the many social media platforms. It's obvious, isn't it? With access to Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc., there are just so many opportunities to use "insider information".

One might even hypothesize that the end result is - as it always has been - the accumulation of personal power and riches.

That is a dangerous game, for all concerned, because what they can do, others can do. Witness Assange and Snowden. The American Government should remember that its' powers are delegated to it by the people, that the people - according to the Supreme Court - have not surrendered, only delegated, and can always take the power back. Either en masse or from individuals. Revenge is sweet, or so they say . . .

Rolf said...

Dorfer21 - the problem is proof. It would be very expensive and difficult to prove throttling or shadow-banning without an insider offering hard evidence, but even then it would be tough because it would be complex and technical. Given the number of "hate-speech" codes that have been made upheld in the courts, and the ease of demonizing the fringe cases "well, yes, we did ban those calling for a return of the pogroms against the Jews, are you saying you are a Nazi and support such speech?", it would be really hard to prosecute. Their terms of service are such they can ban you for just about any reason, and if you are not paying for the service it would be hard to prove economic harm in order to gain standing (especially in a hostile court system).

So yes, it's been considered. But it would be a devilishly difficult and expensive strategy to pursue.

Dan said...

Don't expect Gab to survive. It WILL be eliminated as the left, the media and the deep state cannot allow it to supplant Twitter etc. The most logical method will be to have an offended snowflake...Or several.....File lawsuits claiming defamation , libel etc.
The lawsuits will be shepherded through the kangaroo courts with the outcome, verdicts and MASSIVE monetary damages preordained. The people!E behind Gab and any other such company will be bankrupted and forced out of business. The courts in America are corrupt beyond d believe. They...Meaning the criminal judges infesting them....Are firmly in the camp of the demo rat commies. The rulings from Seattle and he Ninth prove this. We are at war.....Make no mistake about it. The left WILL NOT GIVE UP. They Will do ANYTHING to regain power. Eventually this cold civil war (occasional riots and Violent protests are just minor sample of what the left are quite willing to do) goes hot. But the left WILL NOT SURRENDER.

Craig Mark said...

Dan said...
Don't expect Gab to survive.

You just described what dorfer21 was asking about. And the answer is that the traitorous courts will only allow it to happen in one direction.

Post Alley Crackpot said...

Twitter is now a public utility and as such should be seized by the US Government through eminent domain according to the Fifth Amendment takings clause.

Jack Dorsey should be looking forward to his new government benefits package as a newly minted GS-11 -- after the seizure, he would simply be yet another government bureaucrat, and should not benefit from a higher pay grade.

Post Alley Crackpot said...

Also, how is the "Trust and Safety Council" chartered as a legal entity?

I'm more than willing to bet that they're not nearly as safe as they think they are from being served process and getting dragged into a court of law to explain how they thought they could violate a US citizen's civil rights.

Naturally, this requires a US citizen with legal standing in this regard.

I'm certain there isn't a shortage.