The New York Times looks at Twitter’s internal debate over whether, when, why and how to “censor” users’ speech on its social media platform.
While Apple, Facebook and Google’s YouTube earlier this week purged videos and podcasts from Mr. Jones and Infowars — which have regularly spread falsehoods, including that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax — Twitter let the content remain on its site. In a string of tweets on Tuesday, Mr. Dorsey said Twitter would not ban Mr. Jones or Infowars, because they had not violated the company’s rules.
In the aftermath, many of Twitter’s users and own employees heaped ire on Mr. Dorsey and the company. (Sample comments included “jaw dropping” and “pathetic.”) Several journalists also picked apart Twitter’s decision to leave up the posts from Mr. Jones and Infowars, pointing to examples of the content that appeared to violate the company’s policies.
On Friday, to provide more transparency about its decision making, Twitter invited two New York Times reporters to attend the policy meeting. During the one-hour gathering, a picture emerged of a 12-year-old company still struggling to keep up with the complicated demands of being an open and neutral communications platform that brings together world leaders, celebrities, journalists, political activists and conspiracy theorists.
Even settling on a definition of dehumanizing speech was not easy. By the meeting’s end, Mr. Dorsey and his executives had agreed to draft a policy about dehumanizing speech and open it to the public for their comments.
In an interview on Friday, Mr. Dorsey, 41, said he was “O.K. with people not agreeing” with his decision to keep Mr. Jones’s account live.
“I don’t see this as an end point, I see this as maintaining integrity with what we put out there and not doing random one-off interpretations,” he said.
But Mr. Dorsey also said that while Twitter’s longtime guiding principle has been free expression, the company is now discussing “that safety should come first.” He added, “That’s a conversation we need to have.” He said he was thinking deeply about human rights law and listening to audiobooks on speech and expression.
Karen Kornbluh, a senior fellow of digital policy at the Council of Foreign Relations, said Mr. Dorsey had mishandled the Infowars situation but added that dealing with matters of free speech on social media is highly complex.
“There is no due process, no transparency, no case law, and no expertise on these very complicated legal and social questions behind these decisions,” she said.
There’s more at the link.
I wrote about this situation earlier this week. The core problem remains the same, and is not addressed by the NYT’s report or Twitter’s internal debate. It’s simply this: To what extent should a private company decide on the terms of public debate, particularly when its social media platform is, effectively, a widely-used public utility?
It’s all very well for the company to look for “objective” or “universal” standards to apply, but it’s doing so from within the political, social, economic, cultural and other biases held by its staff and common in the region where they operate. If you look at the publicly known names of Twitter’s “safety team”, they’re almost universally on the left (often the far left) of US politics. They’ve already demonstrated that they’re more than willing to allow negative speech – often amounting to so-called “hate speech” – directed against President Trump or conservatives, while banning the latter from using precisely and exactly the same language against their opponents. Bias? You bet! (You want an example? They’re legion, but to cite the first one that comes to mind, see here.) Yet here they are, debating (for the benefit of journalists from a left-wing organ) how to be fair to all concerned, when fairness is not their modus operandi.
This is little more than a powder-puff piece, designed to show that Twitter is bending over backwards to be socially responsible and ethical. Don’t look at what they say, or what reports like this try to convey. Look at what they actually do. That’ll reveal the truth, much more than their words.