Twitter has turned its back on free speech

Twitter has turned its back on free speech, by Andrew Doyle.

Twitter has set a deadline. In addition to the existing Terms of Service, from 18 December users will be subject to a more stringent set of rules regarding ‘targeted harrassment’, the promotion of ‘violence’, and ‘expressing hate’. And last week Twitter announced that it would no longer ‘verify’ accounts whose viewpoints are not in keeping with the company’s values.

For those of you who have somehow resisted the lure of social media — in other words, those with real lives — the implications of this will not immediately be apparent. A ‘verified’ account on Twitter is marked with a white checkmark on a blue badge. It enables users to distinguish between authentic accounts run by public figures and parodies created by mischief-makers. How else, for example, could one tell the difference between the anti-democratic fulminations of philosopher AC Grayling and that of his similarly petulant rival AC Wailing?

For some reason, Twitter has now decided that verification implies endorsement, and is therefore withdrawing blue badges from those who are perceived to be extremists, such as the alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer. It is likely that such individuals will be banned completely following the 18 December deadline, especially since the new guidelines make it clear that Twitter will no longer tolerate those with questionable affiliations ‘both on and off the platform’. …

The change of direction is explicit and intentional:

Twitter once saw itself as ‘the free-speech wing of the free-speech party’, but a recent New York Times interview with the company’s co-founder Evan Williams suggests that this commendable ideal no longer applies. ‘I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place’, Williams said. ‘I was wrong about that.’

Williams even went so far as to apologise for Donald Trump’s successful use of the platform as a key feature of his election campaign.