Twitter is doing is best imitation of the U.S. government during World War II by coming up with the Twitter Trust & Safety Council. The social media company quietly announced the ominously named group the same day of the New Hampshire primary, making it easy for them to avoid a major publicity hit. But one look at this “Trust & Safety Council” shows it might as well be the U.S. Office of Censorship (emphasis mine):
To ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely on Twitter, we must provide more tools and policies. With hundreds of millions of Tweets sent per day, the volume of content on Twitter is massive, which makes it extraordinarily complex to strike the right balance between fighting abuse and speaking truth to power. It requires a multi-layered approach where each of our 320 million users has a part to play, as do the community of experts working for safety and free expression.
That’s why we are announcing the formation of the Twitter Trust & Safety Council, a new and foundational part of our strategy to ensure that people feel safe expressing themselves on Twitter.
Members of the Trust & Safety Council include Feminist Frequency (led by Anita Sarkeesian of the anti-GamerGate movement), GLAAD, IN@CH, The Cybersmile Foundation, and the Anti-Defamation League. The latter two have been heavily involved in getting cyber legislation passed under the idea of “protecting people from abuse,” while IN@CH is trying to find a “balance” between free speech and social responsibility. These are Social Justice Warriors who appear to be looking to make sure the Internet is free of speech they find offensive. It used to be Twitter users could just hit “block” or “report spam” as a way to not see Twitter trolls, but now it appears a purge is going to happen. I’m extremely sympathetic to people who have been bullied (whether it’s online or in person), but stamping out hateful speech while claiming to be in favor of “free speech” is just completely hypocritical. Free speech means the good has to come with the bad, so those #altright members who preach “white pride” or the #Blacklivesmatter crew which looks for racism everywhere are as welcome on Twitter as those posting cat videos or talking about their favorite sports teams or politician. It means the people who hate cops should be allowed to tweet, as much as those who love cops. There doesn’t need to be a balance in free speech, because FREE SPEECH IS FREE SPEECH. This is what Twitter is failing to do with its new Twitter Trust & Safety Council, especially when it doesn’t define what offensive behavior is (emphasis original).
Twitter empowers every voice to shape the world. But you can’t do that unless you feel safe and confident enough to express yourself freely and connect with the world around you. To help give your voice more power, Twitter does not tolerate behavior intended to harass, intimidate, or use fear to silence another user’s voice.
Working together, we will ensure Twitter is a platform where anyone, anywhere can express themselves safely and confidently.
Twitter has to give an actual definition of what they consider “harass, intimidate, or use fear to silence another user’s voice”. If it’s actual threats of violence (like Dana Loesch has received), then it makes sense to ban the users (and contact the authorities). But if it’s simply calling someone a “jerk”, or using swear words to describe someone, is that really worth removing a user from Twitter? Doesn’t the “block” or “report spam” button work well enough? It just seems odd for Twitter to give a broad definition of “harassment” unless they’re just pandering to the chronically offended. If that’s the case, then what does that say about Twitter’s leadership? It’s almost similar to some of the problems Reddit had last year where they started banning areas like “Fat People Hate” (which Minecraft created Markus Persson said was offensive but didn’t want it shut down) or the people who were “shadow banned” for criticizing ex-CEO Ellen Pao. It’s censorship, disguised as keeping people “safe”. People would be up in arms if the U.S. government did this, so why aren’t more people angry about it outside of conservatives and libertarians? Is it because those on the Left don’t expect to be censored or because they tacitly agree with it? Twitter has every right to put in these new rules. They’re a private business and I do not believe any level of government should try to step in and tell the company what to do. But it will be interesting to see how Twitter users will react to this. Will they rebel like Reddit users did, and start petitions pushing for CEO Jack Dorsey’s resignation or will he be pushed out anyway due to Twitter’s falling stock and customers? These new rules may drive even more customers to alternatives like Quitter.se or Cyber Dust for their social media. That’s how the free market works, and Twitter may soon learn this hard lesson.
Censorship isn’t cool, and some people on the Right and the Left are leaving Twitter in protest. There’s no guarantee Twitter will become the next MySpace, but if the revolt is large enough it might force Twitter to change its ways and go back to the old policy. Until then, it’s up to Twitter users to decide whether they’ll keep their account or seek alternatives which care more about free speech, than pandering.