Before I get too political, let me make one thing clear: I love Twitter. I use it every day. I check it when I wake up in the morning and right before I go to bed. It’s how I keep up with the news, my friends who are away at school and the latest trends. But, Twitter has a very big problem.
Last week, I mentioned that there is one very big downfall of social media: cyberbullying. Twitter, and specifically CEO Jack Dorsey, have chosen to ignore the problem rather than face it head on. Nearly a month ago, Karla Peterson, a contact reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, published an article addressing Twitter’s lack of action regarding fake news and hate speech.
In Twitter’s defense, its hard to monitor 335 million active accounts. But Peterson’s statement to Dorsey focused on one account; an account that garnered national interest due to its sensational and false statements. That’s right. Peterson was talking about Alex Jones and his infamous “news” outlet InfoWars. Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify banned Jones and InfoWars. So, why would Dorsey not follow suit?
“If we succumb and simply react to outside pressure, rather than straightforward principles we enforce (and evolve) impartially regardless of political viewpoints, we become a service that’s constructed by our personal views that can swing in any direction,” Dorsey tweeted.
Peterson had no problem saying it and neither do I: Jack, you’re wrong. CEO’s of social media corporations are often referred to as guardians. They are the people who regulate who’s able to say what on the Internet, and they determined what falls under the protections of free speech. But where should they draw the line? Does hate speech fall under the protections of free speech? Do false information and conspiracy theories?
To answer these questions, let’s take a minute to refresh what we have learned about free speech from a legal and historical context. The First Amendment was adopted in 1791, but in the early 1900s, courts began to clarify what was and was not protected by freedom of speech. As of now, the constitution protects one’s right to refrain from speaking, to protest, to use certain offensive words or phrases in a political context, to donate money to a political movement, to advertise, and to participate in symbolic speech . However, the Constitution does not protect the right to incite action that may be harmful to others.
On the other hand, Twitter does not clearly define what is and isn’t considered hate speech on its platform. Twitter’s Hateful conduct policy focuses on three things: content, context and behavior. Users’ content can’t promote violence or attack or threaten someone else. But, the context in which content is evaluated is crucial. Tweets may seem offensive if they are viewed in isolation, but are meant to be part of a larger thread. In terms of behavior, its Twitter’s policy that abusive tweets have to tag specific users in order for it to fall under hateful conduct.
So do we all have a basic understanding of what freedom of speech constitutes now? Do we all understand Twitter’s policy on hate speech? Cool. Moving on.
Jones has an avid and passionate following on social media. In fact, as Peterson mentioned, “his followers hounded the parents of a Sandy Hook victim so relentlessly, they had to move seven times in five years,” after Jones claimed the tragedy was a hoax conducted by crisis actors. Looking back at what we learned about free speech and Twitter’s Hateful Conduct Policy, should Jones be protected?
According to the Constitution, no, he absolutely isn’t. According to Dorsey, its not his job to worry about it.
That’s right ladies and gentlemen. CEO Jack Dorsey is pulling a classic CEO move: delegation. Rather than taking responsibility for false information Jones spews to 899 thousand followers, Dorsey delegates the responsibility to someone else.
“Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors,” Dorsey tweeted, “so it’s critical journalists document, validate and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.”
I think if Peterson and I had been in the same room while reading this tweet, we might have laughed until we cried. I agree. Journalists have a part to play in protecting free speech, but so do you Jack Dorsey. So does your company. In this day and age, it isn’t feasible for journalists to expose every right or left-winged conspiracy theorist who take snippets of correct information and develop an entirely false narrative. Donald Trump has declared war against the press. No one who follows Jones will believe anything a reporter from CNN, AP, NBC or ABC says. His followers will only believe the personal cheerleaders of President Trump: Fox News and InfoWars.
Since the public outlash, Dorsey had changed his tune… publicly, at least. But, it’s going to take a lot for him to convince me he’s willing to take a stand against hate speech.