Social media: Twitter tries to drain the swamp
Twitter “may be getting serious about reclaiming its platform from trolls,” said Charlie Warzel in BuzzFeed.com. The social network unexpectedly suspended accounts belonging to prominent white nationalist and alt-right users last week as part of a large effort to rein in hate speech and harassment on the site. The decision came just hours after the company unveiled long-awaited tools for combating online abuse, including an expanded “mute” feature allowing users to block specific words and offensive phrases. The move was met with howls of outrage from banned users. In a YouTube video, Richard Spencer, the head of an alt-right think tank called the National Policy Institute, declared that was he “alive physically, but digitally speaking, there has been execution squads across the alt-right.”
Twitter’s crackdown comes amid a rising tide of online hate speech, said Jessica Guynn in USA Today. An October report from the Anti-Defamation League found that more than 2.6 million tweets with anti-Semitic language were sent between August 2015 and July 2016, many directed against journalists covering Donald Trump. The neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer recently published a list of more than 50 Twitter users who expressed fear about a Trump presidency, “urging its readers to ‘punish’ them with a barrage of tweets that would drive them to suicide.”
Plenty of folks within the alt-right community are loudly complaining that Twitter’s actions are “blatant censorship,” said Cale Guthrie Weissman in FastCompany.com. Many of the banned users appear to have taken up residence on Gab, a new alt-right social network that works like a combination of Twitter and Reddit. Some are even using it to coordinate anonymous harassment campaigns on Twitter in retribution for the company’s actions. Gab’s Trumpsupporting founder, Andrew Torba, who was kicked out of a Silicon Valley startup incubator for violating its anti-harassment policy, says companies have no right to decide what’s harassment and what isn’t. “Hateful and harassment are subjective terms,” he says.
“Twitter is acting wholly within its rights,” said David Frum in TheAtlantic.com. But I still think it’s making a mistake. The perception of “arbitrary and one-sided speech policing” is exactly what drives so many young men toward radical, alt-right beliefs in the first place. Let’s not turn “loudmouths and thugs” into free speech martyrs. That’s why Twitter needs to be transparent about what kind of behavior merits a ban, said Will Oremus in Slate.com. Right now, the company doesn’t discuss specific tweets, even with the user being suspended. More transparency won’t insulate Twitter from criticism, “but it would at least give the company a stronger claim to the high ground.”