EDITORIAL: Trusting Twitter for our freedom of expression? | Editorials

On Monday, following Parag Agrawal’s announcement as the new director of Twitter, the CEO of the social media company concluded a letter similar to a mission statement to employees with a challenge:

“The world is watching us now, even more than before,” said Agrawal, 37, a Stanford University graduate from India, who has worked his way up from software engineer to CEO. “A lot of people are going to have different views and opinions on today’s news. It’s because they care about Twitter and our future, and it’s a signal that the work we do here is important. Let’s show the world the full potential of Twitter.

He is right. We look. Globally, free speech advocates who struggle against the usefulness of post-modern public square platforms like Twitter rightly recognize how the transfer of power from Dorsey to Agrawal is a watershed moment. in the history of how social media affects society.

Twitter already has a checkered history of applying a thumbs-wide free speech to foster messages of particular philosophical and political beliefs. The most obvious example is President Donald Trump’s outright and indefinite platform ban earlier this year.

As Agrawal’s own statements suggest, Twitter will likely only increase it further from here. The new CEO hinted at in an interview with MIT Technology Review a year ago. The special episode of “In Machines We Trust” – a haunting title in its own right – was a conversation between Agrawal and MIT Tech Review editor-in-chief Gideon Lichfield. The discussion focused specifically on how Twitter is “trying to thread a needle to mitigate the damage of bogus content without becoming an arbiter of truth.”

During the conversation, Lichfield tells Agrawal that several questions submitted by the audience all ask the same thing: “Who decides what ‘disinformation’ is? Agrawal dubbed the survey “the existential question of our time.”

Then, as Agrawal made the following statement, George Orwell turned in his grave.

“… We have focused a lot less on what’s right and what’s wrong. We’re focusing much more on the potential for harm resulting from amplifying certain content on the platform without the proper context. “

Lichfield went on to say, prompted by the public, the obvious: Twitter is “caught in a difficult position” because they “try to fight disinformation” while “wanting to protect free speech as a value. fundamental “.

“Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment,” corrected Agrawal Lichfield, “… (we) focus less on thinking about free speech, but on how the times have gone. One of the changes we are seeing today is that speaking is easy on the Internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard. hui, it is attention.

Reasonable people can agree that attention is the commodity of our time – a take on Netflix’s spooky social dilemma documentary will convince you as much – while realizing that we, as Americans in our own country, shouldn’t. not having to nod and give Twitter the Big Brother – like the power to decide who can be heard.

This is especially the case after the company presented its magnum example of censorship last year: banning sharing – even in private private messages – of the New York Post’s specific report on the Hunter Biden laptop scandal. It’s a move that many free speech supporters from all walks of life claim to have strongly affected the 2020 presidential election.

In Agrawal’s first week as CEO, Twitter took another step forward by embracing its role as an intercontinental technocratic speaking master. On Tuesday, the Orwellian account “@TwitterSafety” reported that Agrawal had banned “the sharing of private media, such as pictures or videos of individuals without their consent.” Twitter said the new policy is intended to “help curb the misuse of the media to harass, intimidate and reveal the identities of individuals, which has a disproportionate impact on women, activists, dissidents and members. minority communities “.

The despotic language of the political announcement further increased suspicion among pro-free-speech types, especially after it was made public earlier in the week that Agrawal once tweeted: “If they don’t distinction between Muslims and extremists, so why do I distinguish between whites and racists? – apparently a quote from “The Daily Show”.

Whether conservative or liberal, journalists of all stripes should be concerned with Agrawal’s primary political backbone. Skeptics believe it will be used by Twitter to further silence and censor any relevant journalistic information that Twitter prefers the masses to stay away from.

Alas, we agree, Parag. We care about the future of Twitter. We believe that the work you do is important. We’re just concerned that your accusation of “showing the world the full potential of Twitter” comes at the expense of the potential of so many of us.

Gazette Editorial Board

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