A Twitter executive said Tuesday that it is “no longer possible to stand up for all speech,” just five years after a different executive described the company as the “free speech wing of the free speech party.”
Speaking before British politicians, Sinead McSweeney, Twitter’s European vice president for public policy and communications, purposefully acknowledged and addressed the change in tune.
“I look back over last five-and-a-half years, and the answers I would have given to some of these questions five years ago were very different,” McSweeney said, according to Business Insider. “Twitter was in a place where it believed the most effective antidote to bad speech was good speech. It was very much a John Stuart Mill-style philosophy. We’ve realised the world we live in has changed.”
Tony Wang, then-general manager of Twitter’s operations in the U.K., expressed quite a different attitude in 2012 while explaining the company.
“Generally, we remain neutral as to the content because our general council [sic] and CEO like to say that we are the free speech wing of the free speech party,” he said.
While McSweeney didn’t join Twitter until after Wang provided his commentary, it shows a fairly stark shift in attitude and, in fact, follows a shift in policy.
Twitter announced Monday that it is getting even more strict with “hateful conduct and abusive behavior” on the platform by restructuring its policies to encompass more content.
“Specific threats of violence or wishing for serious physical harm, death, or disease to an individual or group of people,” for example, is and has been a violation of Twitter policies, but “new changes include more types of related content,” like “content that glorifies violence or the perpetrators of a violent act.” Additionally, accounts that are, in Twitter’s eyes, affiliated with organizations that use or promote violence are included in the crackdown.
Twitter added exceptions for military and government entities, as well as “groups that are currently engaging in (or have engaged in) peaceful resolution,” a stipulation that many considered an indirect pass for President Donald Trump. (RELATED: Trump Will Likely Never Get Banned From Twitter. Here’s Why)
Gab, a social networking alternative to Twitter, highlighted its rival’s takedowns of particular accounts, which it most likely considers as acts of censorship, including “blue checkmark” verified ones. Gab often serves as a virtual refuge for unofficial members of the far-right (or alt-right).
Press F pic.twitter.com/WjvizzGO69
— Gab: Free Speech Social Network (@getongab) December 18, 2017
Twitter has censored and purged certain accounts loosely associated with the alt-right camp before, sending those users to Gab, who likely regard the platform as an actual “free speech wing.” Conversely, Twitter and supporters of its move seem to consider certain users as a highly unwanted virus warranting action.
Of course, Twitter is a private company, free to do as it pleases, even if it serves to please some and displease others.
“Twitter and Facebook are at the center of the controversies around fake news and hate speech, where their biases and even some hypocrisy are on display,” Richard Bennett, one of the original creators of the Wi-Fi system and founder of High Tech Forum, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “But it’s much better to allow these companies to create their own policies than to saddle them with government mandates. But that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh at them for demanding freedom for themselves while denying it to others.”
Ryan Hagemann, director of technology policy at the Niskanen Center think tank, says Twitter should be able to and can operate freely.
He adds that, if anything, people should worry about the state “overzealously policing and punishing the thoughts and expressions of its citizens.”
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