By Peter Hasson
Twitter’s censorship problem looks like it’s here to stay.
The company faced a sharp backlash last week after a Vice News investigation revealed that it was hiding several prominent Republicans from its search bar.
Those affected included four House Republicans: Rep. Devin Nunes of California, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Mark Meadows of North Carolina. All four are members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Democrats weren’t affected in the same way, Vice found.
R. Nunes is looking at taking legal steps against Twitter, he said in a Fox News interview on Sunday. “It sure looks to me like they are censoring people and they ought to stop it,” the California Republican said. “We are looking at any legal remedies to go through.”
Gaetz announced on Friday that he is bringing a Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint against Twitter, accusing the company of making an illegal in-kind donation to his opponents by suppressing his account.
At the center of the company’s censorship problem is its decision to penalize “bad-faith actors,” who aren’t actually in violation of any rules but still threaten “healthy conversation.”
Much of the sorting between good and bad actors on Twitter is done by an algorithm, which takes into account criteria like whom you follow and tweet at, and who follows and tweets at you.
Twitter didn’t penalize the congressmen because of anything they said but because the “wrong” accounts were engaging with their tweets, two Twitter executives conceded in a blog post Thursday. The Republicans were guilty of being followed by the wrong people.
Twitter has since restored the congressmen’s visibility on Twitter, but the underlying issue remains.
The company is still burying accounts it deems “bad-faith actors,” while remaining opaque about who does or doesn’t fit that classification — and which accounts follow or retweet you are still part of the criteria.
Twitter, which once described itself as the “free speech wing of the free speech party,” has aggressively stepped up its speech policing in other ways.
The company in June acquired Smyte, a tech company whose specialties include fighting cyberbullying, “hate speech,” and trolling. Twitter’s third-party partners include the Southern Poverty Law Center, a left-wing nonprofit known for labeling pedestrian conservative organizations as “hate groups.”
Twitter’s crackdown on internet trolls has swept up plenty of non-trolls as well. Like the four GOP congressmen, Republican National Committee (RNC) chairwoman Ronna McDaniel saw her account buried in search results before Twitter reversed it among a public backlash.
Twitter hit Kathleen McKinley, a conservative blogger and commentator in Houston, with a temporary suspension on Friday for two tweets that they labeled “hateful conduct.”
One June tweet opposed clearing transgender people for military service — a policy position shared by many Republicans including the president of the United States. The other tweet, from September 2017, tied “extreme Muslim beliefs” — as opposed to mainstream Muslim beliefs — to the practice of honor-killings.
McKinley was suspended a day after a Muslim immigrant in McKinley’s hometown was convicted of murdering two people in an honor-killing. McKinley is back on Twitter now that her eight-hour suspension is over, but Twitter has yet to offer her an explanation or an apology for the suspension.
Adding to conservatives concerns is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s known liberal politics. Dorsey sparked controversy in April when he endorsed an article calling for a total Democratic victory the “new civil war.” He similarly raised eyebrows in June by apologizing for the sin of eating at Chick-Fil-A.
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