Twitter’s announcement that it has suspended over 235,000 accounts since the beginning of last year for terrorism-related activities will come as no surprise to anyone who is active on the social platform. Daily suspensions have almost doubled over the last 12 months, and experience a significant increase just after a terrorist attack.
Twitter has also been criticised by users for increasing it’s focus on copyright infringement, including protectionist type activities in relation to the Olympic Games. Many users have found their accounts suspended or terminated after posting images of competing athletes, deemed to be the property of the International Olympic Committee.
However, Twitter claims it has been largely reactive – avoiding algorithmic activity in favour of enlarged teams and individual analysis, however the results do not speak to this at all. It does of course makes sense that would would not want to be seen to be “releasing the bots,” on user’s accounts, especially as it’s reputation for empowering freedom of speech has taken a battering over the last few years.
The other issue for Twitter is algorithms of this type must by definition have a bias towards certain keywords, mentions and phrases and the cross-pollination would be a significant issue. For example, if an algorithm is biased against a certain group, it will inevitably favour another and vice versa. So, it may accidentally weed out right or left wing political views, or end up targeting minority groups – a situation Twitter would not want to acknowledge, or be caught up in.
Washington meanwhile, remains hamstrung by the Constitution – with freedom of speech still being prioritised over counterterrorism, and for good reason. The argument presented by freedom of speech advocates is profoundly sensible – if you legislate against one portion of society, where does it end?
Of course, this is the slippery slope argument, well used in political circles for many decades and in most cases, it’s simply not relevant – but in the case of freedom of speech, everyone has a right to know what can and can’t be controlled.
Around the world, governments are still scrambling to find a policy that honours the people’s rights to speak openly, while still stopping hate groups from spewing vile doctrine all over the Internet. It may be however, that the impasse is simply too large and with freedom of speech advocates being just as passionate as those wanting to stop hate speech – and essentially being on the same side – it remains unlikely that any Democratic politician will be able to table a palatable idea to an electorate without suffering a crippling political blow.