Twitter has formed a “Trust and Safety Council” to “ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely” on their network. In principle, I think there should be some monitoring to prevent personal threats and incitement to violence, but this seems to go farther. Have a look at their page on this, which states, among other things,
In developing the Council, we are taking a global and inclusive approach so that we can hear a diversity of voices from organizations including:
- Safety advocates, academics, and researchers focused on minors, media literacy, digital citizenship, and efforts around greater compassion and empathy on the Internet;
- Grassroots advocacy organizations that rely on Twitter to build movements and momentum;
- Community groups with an acute need to prevent abuse, harassment, and bullying, as well as mental health and suicide prevention.
We have more than 40 organizations and experts from 13 regions joining as inaugural members of the Council. We are thrilled to work with these organizations to ensure that we are enabling everyone, everywhere to express themselves with confidence on Twitter.
And here are their inaugural members:
Twitter Trust & Safety Council – Inaugural Members:
- Anti-Bullying Pro
- Anti-Defamation League
- Beyond Blue
- Center for Democracy and Technology
- Circle of 6
- Crisis Text Line
- Cyber Civil Rights Initiative
- Cybersmile Foundation
- Dacher Keltner, Professor of Psychology and Faculty Director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center
- Dangerous Speech Project
- EU Kids Online
- European Schoolnet
- Family Online Safety Institute
- Feminist Frequency
- Fundacion para la Libertad de Prensa
- ICT Watch
- Internet Watch Foundation
- Love 146
- Marc Brackett, Director, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence
- National Cyber Security Alliance
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Network to End Domestic Violence
- Pantallas Amigas
- Project Rockit
- Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales
- Red Papaz
- The Alannah and Madeline Foundation
- The Wahid Institute
- UK Safer Internet Centre
- Without My Consent
What worries me is that I know of some of these organizations, and realize that they aren’t simply trying to prevent incitement to violence or threats to personal safety, but to suppress the form of “hate speech” which often amounts simply to criticism of an organization’s or a person’s views. The Anti Defamation League (ADL), for instance, combats anti-Semitism and racism. That’s an admirable goal, but should sentiments like that be prohibited on Twitter? And, if so, who is to decide what counts as anti-Semitism? The ADL? The Dangerous Speech Project, for instance, equates inflammatory speech with violence:
Inflammatory public speech rises steadily before outbreaks of mass violence, suggesting that it is a precursor of, or even a prerequisite for violence.
You can see where this will lead: someone has to decide what “inflammatory public speech is.”
And, from my experience on the Internet, criticism of people’s views is often construed as “bullying,” so there are anti-bullying organizations involved here too. There is a fine line here, for excessive name-calling, particularly of children, can lead to trauma and even suicide, but even adults who promulgate controversial views—and get pushback—often claim they’re being “bullied.” “Bullying” is often a code word for “strong criticism.”
In the end, some restrictions are necessary on Twitter, but this proposal appears to go way too far. Who will decide what speech is “hate speech” or “bullying speech”? Where on the list are organizations like FIRE or the American Civil Liberties Union that are dedicating to protecting freedom of speech? I see none. It’s a totally one-sides list, comprising organizations that will censor.
This is a very bad move on the part of Twitter. By implying that they’re creating a space where organizations can express themselves “freely and safely”, they’re in effect going along with the “safe speech” crowd. And what, exactly, does “safely” mean? If it means freedom from threats of violence, I agree. If it means—and I think it does—freedom from unwanted or strong criticism, then goodbye to free speech on Twitter.
As always, the best remedy for offensive or unwanted speech is not censoring your opponents, but counterspeech. Apparently Twitter hasn’t learned that lesson. They have a right to control their commercial platform as they wish, but I don’t think they realize that this kind of thought control is positively Orwellian.