It has been a fun ride on social media website Twitter; however, like all good things, this too must come to an end. Twitter is going down, and it will ultimately be the cowardice of Twitter’s top executives that kill it.
The trend in the price of Twitter stock has been steady decline to outright free fall since hitting a high price in the $60s in early 2014. Since then, it has lost 75% of its value. Twitter stock has been trading at or below the $18 level for the entire month of February.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that Twitter’s consistent inability to attract new users to its platform is the cause of the fall in stock price, as a website’s value is almost totally reflected in the ability to retain current users and acquire new ones. These, however, are anything but conventional times and conventional wisdom does not necessarily rule out.
Case in point is the new Trust and Safety council tasked with trying to make Twitter a “safe space” for the people who need that sort of thing.
The Trust and Safety council was introduced in a blog post on February 9, 2016. The exact charge of the council as stated in the blog post is as follows:
On Twitter, every voice has the power to shape the world. We see this power every day, from activists who use Twitter to mobilize citizens to content creators who use Twitter to shape opinion.
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.
This is a very noble goal. Twitter is placing responsibility for meeting that goal on all 320 million of its users: progressives, conservatives, the six people left who unashamedly identify as liberals, and libertarians—all sorts of people from all across the race, sex, creed, orientation, identity, and mental health spectra working collectively to establish methods by which all users of Twitter can use the service from a position of relative safety.
At least, that’s the theory.
The Burning Platform: Pew Research of Online Harassment
In October, 2014, Pew Research published the results of a study concerning online harassment, and on first glance, the results are harrowing:
- 60% of internet users said they had witnessed someone being called offensive names
- 53% had seen efforts to purposefully embarrass someone
- 25% had seen someone being physically threatened
- 24% witnessed someone being harassed for a sustained period of time
- 19% said they witnessed someone being sexually harassed
- 18% said they had seen someone be stalked
Those who have personally experienced online harassment said they were the target of at least one of the following online:
- 27% of internet users have been called offensive names
- 22% have had someone try to purposefully embarrass them
- 8% have been physically threatened
- 8% have been stalked
- 7% have been harassed for a sustained period
- 6% have been sexually harassed
As one might expect, there was widespread media coverage about the study results, with all the pearl clutching those of us who know things about the tech industry have come to expect from a lazy, spineless tech press more interested in baiting clicks and intersectional sociology than facts and data.
What I found more interesting than the raw numbers is the comments in the open ended response section of the report. Of the responses, I am going to focus on a select handful for the purposes of making a point:
- “I’ve been called all sorts of names online in response to my being Jewish, and in response to my politically conservative views.”
- “Just name calling because I don’t support Obama policies and occasionally get accused of being racist.”
- “Someone asked me what my views were on a topic, gay marriage. I knew they didn’t want to know what I thought and tried to steer away from the topic. The person wouldn’t drop it and I eventually said, ‘I leave the situation up to the voters, but my personal belief is marriage is defined by one man and one woman.’ They then went into how I should be ashamed to be, ‘a f*****g intolerant right wing racist bigot.’”
- “I am constantly attacked on gun control as recent as the police shootings and the shooting across from diner in Walmart.”
- “When I expressed disagreement with some of the core concepts of contemporary feminism (Rape Culture, privilege, toxic masculinity, etc.), any feminist who doesn’t already know me has been quick to characterize me as a privileged, misogynistic rape apologist.”
Isn’t that interesting? People who report being harassed online for their political beliefs, apparently are harassed for being or leaning toward the conservative side of the political spectrum. Surely, Twitter read the entirety of the Pew Research report and took the appropriate steps to ensure all Twitter’s users can use the service in a safe manner. Again, that’s the theory.
Who’s On Trust and Safety
If readers haven’t guessed by now, I intended on hammering Twitter for creating its own Ministry of Truth for its service that has no hope of fulfilling the charge for which it was created. That said, there are some organizations included in the Trust and Safety Council that ought to be held above such a criticism. The organizations are those committed to the safety of children. Public schools, at least in America, are among the most socially Darwinistic places a person will experience in their life. To say I can imagine what the Internet’s effects on the Socially Darwinistic nature of public school is both naïve and insulting to the people who have to live it. Therefore, I will not criticize Twitter including groups from the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand specifically dedicated to preventing the abuse of children on social media on the Trust and Safety Council.
Everyone else, including Twitter itself, is fair game, however.
From a broad perspective, what you will find if you look through the information on the members of the Trust and Safety Council is a distinct lack of conservative representation on the council itself. The most conservative organization on the list is the Anti-Defamation League, and the ADL appears to be more focused on anti-semitism than conservative or libertarian ideologies generally.
Here’s a perfect example. GLAAD is on Trust and Safety. That’s perfectly fine with me, and it should be perfectly fine with you. However, if Twitter and the Trust and Safety Council is to make good on its promise to make Twitter “safe” for everyone, then why isn’t an organization like The American Conservative Union on Trust and Safety? Why is the speech of GLAAD implicitly given more value and more importance than the speech of the ACU?
If you can provide a real answer to that question—real defined as not an answer grounded in made up intersectional sociology—then I’m all ears. Otherwise, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is using Trust and Safety as a weapon to silence ideological “enemies.”
Those are important and pointed questions for Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, assuming asking those questions in the first place didn’t get the asker shadowbanned—more on that in a bit.
Originally, this commentary was going to center around exactly zero libertarian or conservative groups being involved in Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, and the dangers associated with Twitter letting people who went before the UN with a straight face to say getting beheaded for witchcraft and being told you suck on the Internet are the same thing, dictating what is and is not “harassment.”
For those intellectually bankrupt critics out there, a woman getting beheaded for witchcraft is violence against women, and Sarkeesian and Quinn claimed being told, “You suck,” on the Internet was violence against women; therefore, mathematics dictates being beheaded for witchcraft and being told you suck on the Internet are the same thing (if A=B and B=C, then A=C). Oh, and they also want constitutionally guaranteed rights of evidentiary procedure and due process suspended, but only for “harassers.” That’ll be important in a second.
Come to find out, the Trust and Safety Council isn’t the first act of Twitter trying to turn itself into Tumblr Jr., but one of the final acts.
Shadowbanning As an Ideological Weapon
Breitbart Tech broke the story on February 16, 2016 when a source inside Twitter confirmed the service is “shadowbanning” users. The Breitbart piece quotes a source as saying Twitter maintains a whitelist of favored users and a blacklist of “unpersons,” to use the apropos literary reference.
Whitelisted users have their content prioritized in search results, while blacklisted users’ posts are not seen in both search results as well as other users’ timelines. The existence of whitelists and blacklists isn’t in and of itself controversial. However, when blacklists and whitelists are being used to silence opposition to specific ideologies, there is a problem.
Several Twitter users of libertarian or conservative ideological bent have been reporting, or have had followers report to them, their Tweets are not showing up in the timelines of users following them. This feels troublesome, as users of Twitter ought to have to power to curate their own timelines without interference from Twitter itself. Moreover, an individual user of Twitter ought to be able to associate with whomever they choose without fear of reprisal. Those ideals, it seems, are far beyond Twitter’s capabilities.
The False Arguments
Proponents of the Trust and Safety Council in its current form state that Twitter is not attempting to censor ideologies it doesn’t agree with, and even if it did, Twitter is well within its rights as a publicly traded private entity to administrate its service however it wants to. Strictly speaking, that’s true; however, isn’t Twitter’s value derived exclusively from the ability of its user base to share information and opinions with each other without Orwellian interference from a Ministry of Truth incapable of providing ideological balance to the service? Or, put another way, doesn’t Twitter become valueless if it can’t provide the service it claims to provide? I believe the answer to that question is an emphatic “Yes.”
Moreover, Twitter does not provide any specifics as to why it shadowbanned or outright suspended a user, beyond a nebulous “broke the rules” statement to the user who was suspended. Just this week, conservative blogger, and self-described anti-feminist Robert Stacy McCain was banned from Twitter. No one knows why, of course, but combine McCain’s banning with reports from other noteworthy conservative and libertarian commentators that their tweets are not being seen in their follower’s timelines should lead to many questions into what the role of Trust and Safety is and what the value of Twitter ultimately is if anyone can be banned at any time for Trust and Safety’s definition of crimethink.
Twitter using Trust and Safety as an ideological weapon is one thing, but to be so overtly underhanded with its administration is far, far worse to me. So much so, I question the value of not only Twitter as a service provider, but the value of the service Twitter is claiming, and failing, to provide.
What say you, Raptors? If Twitter becomes beholden to peddlers of thought crime, where will you go to get social media fix?