Twitter announced Thursday that it is relinquishing its business relationship with news agencies Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik, in a move that makes it unclear where the company draws the line.
Citing an “internal investigation” along with the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) report from January, Twitter said “both RT and Sputnik attempted to interfere with the election on behalf of the Russian government” and thus would end their respective advertisements and donate all the earned revenue to ill-defined Russian interference research.
While the DNI’s findings certainly include such charges, they also state that “Russia’s goals were to … denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”
Since Twitter specifically referenced the report, the decision to cut ties with the two Russian firms and their advertising endeavors was presumably also because of their respective treatment and coverage of the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate. That will inevitably create a slippery slope, in which it will be confronted with a number of news organizations’ similar conduct.
For example, the BBC has been accused of being highly unfair to certain candidates on the conservative side, and favorable to their counterparts. Prior to winning the General Election, current U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s ministers urged her to crack down on the perceived bias of the BBC if she won because the news station was unfairly influencing the election in favor of their own ostensible political affiliation. And there were also accusations that the BBC was biased in its coverage of the U.S. election — a foreign political contest just like that of RT and Sputnik’s situation — by specifically favoring then-candidates Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
Yet Twitter likely never considered ending the BBC’s advertising capabilities on the platform. The company declined to elaborate when The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out for comment on that particular comparison and said “We do not have any comment on our private conversations with any advertiser, even a former advertiser.”
In fact, why hasn’t Twitter ended sponsorship with Al Jazeera, a state-funded broadcaster based in Qatar which, much like the Kremlin-controlled RT, presumably has both a coordinated and inherent news bias? Al Jazeera may not have been ruled by the DNI to have tried to influence America’s electoral processes, but it does have a slant that likely played a part in trying to sway minds. After all, it’s been sued for sexism and anti-semitism, internal conduct and beliefs that probably trickled down into news coverage. Ironically, Clinton praised Al Jazeera years earlier, calling it “real news around the clock.” (RELATED: Hillary FLASHBACK: ‘Viewership of Al Jazeera Is Going Up In The United States’ [VIDEO])
Much like Facebook and Google, Twitter has been feeling pressure to address Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential election, after it was called upon to brief Congress on the foreign adversary’s interference. While it’s not perfectly clear if the move to ban RT and Sputnik was done with acquiescence or genuine eagerness, the fact that Twitter still went through with it shows that pressure from certain congressional investigators is working.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia — a man who has expressed his deep-seated concerns of Russian attempts to further cultivate an already-schismatic political climate in the U.S. — applauded Twitter’s decision, saying it helps its mission in “restoring the public’s trust.”
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) October 26, 2017
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also chimed in.
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) October 26, 2017
Discontinuing an agreement with certain firms that didn’t comport with Twitter’s standards doesn’t amount to censorship. It does, however, appear to show a U.S. tech company’s strong willingness to give into (perhaps capitulate) to the demands of public officials, whether for better or worse. (RELATED: Leaked Twitter Emails Show An Imminent Crackdown On ‘Hate Symbols’)
Overall, Twitter always seems to be quick to drop its free expression ethos in order to get rid of content or advertisers that it deems unseemly, and this may just serve as another example of its inconsistent, discriminate application of such policies.
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