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?
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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.)