Twitter Sometimes Gets It Right
Okay, by this point, we can agree that Donald Trump can often bring out the worst in people. This is not even an effect that is limited to the extreme “alt-right” of the sort that so recently made the news for clashes between protesters and counter-protesters in Charlottesville. There is something about Trump that really pisses off liberals. Part of this may be because they haven’t yet emotionally recovered from Hillary Clinton’s loss last November and part of it may be because Trump is a political outsider who was not taken seriously early in last year’s election season. So it should be no surprise that some liberals want to shut down avenues of communication used by Trump, his administration, and his supporters.
Some liberal reported Donald Trump’s Twitter account for Tweets he made criticizing MSNBC personalities such as Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski and reinforcing his promise to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea if it gets out of line. The liberal claimed that these tweets violated Twitter’s policy forbidding harassment and threats. (If you’re curious, this liberal’s name is Michael Hawley.) Twitter wisely issued an official response stating that @realDonaldTrump did not violate its policies.
It should be no surprise that Twitter decided that this report was a waste of its time. Social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook have caught flak for their apparent refusal to shut down accounts that really do harass and threaten other individuals, while at the same time shutting down legitimate and innocent accounts that get reported by their owners’ rivals without bothering to investigate. I follow one Twitter account whose owner has gotten his 15 minutes of fame by doing nothing more shocking than landing the Curiosity rover on Mars and rocking a totally cool hairdo while doing it, and even he once got suspended after one of these false reports.
Sol is a day on Mars, so it’s the same as seize the day, but Martian. Matt Damon gets it. I like explaining things. Also you should do this! https://t.co/lq8UfveYid
— Bobak Ferdowsi (@tweetsoutloud) August 15, 2017
This tells me two things: First, there are people who genuinely and unreasonably hate NASA and its employees and this is their way of lashing out. Second, while it may be fair to say that the department that is supposed to review those reports is understaffed and overworked, that doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t do a very good job of responding to those reports in a way that makes sure that innocent Twitter users are unfairly flagged. This has given Twitter its reputation for tolerating Islamic terrorists who may be using its platform to plan attacks, while suspending or banning the accounts of legitimate users who may be guilty of no more than posting a 140-character tweet expressing an opinion that the person making the report disagreed with.
This makes it very easy for liberals to abuse the system, even though it obviously didn’t work in the case of @realDonaldTrump. A 20-year-old liberal college student with the goal of silencing conservative voices on social media could spend most of his weekends reporting conservative accounts by the hundred and count on at least some of those reports working to get those accounts suspended. Even in cases where Twitter determines that the account didn’t violate its policies, this kid can say that at least he tried. Because of this problem, people and nonprofit organizations who use social media as a way to communicate to the world may hesitate to say what they are really thinking because they don’t want to get shut down by a 20-year-old on a power trip.
I want to be fair here and say that First Amendment right guarantee only that the government won’t penalize most forms of speech, even when that speech is offensive to society at large. This is why the Supreme Court recently struck down a ban on offensive names and why the government won’t crack down on conservative Christians who picket a Planned Parenthood location. If it’s not violent or calls for violence, the government won’t get involved.
This does not mean, however, that private organizations and corporations like Twitter are required to give “offensive” speech a platform. Even if it appears that they only have a “Terms and Conditions” document for the sake of limiting its liability, Twitter is not legally required to provide a platform for anyone ranging from Donald Trump to Michael Hawley. GoDaddy is not legally required to provide services for a neo-Nazi website. The Space Hipsters are well within their rights to pull the plug on political discussions in their Facebook group. They can effectively tell people to get lost and get their own soapbox if they want to spout a controversial opinion because these platforms aren’t affiliated with the government in any way.
This, however, does not change the fact that liberals want to shut down on conservatives’ ability to rationally discuss the issues on a public forum by any means necessary. Young liberals may especially be susceptible to the most common debate pitfalls because they haven’t considered that real, rational, sane people can actually disagree with the concepts that they claim to support. So of course these young people will act shocked when they suddenly have to defend an idea that they took for granted as something that everybody could agree with. Some of the more reasonable, mature, and seasoned liberals, such as Bernie Sanders, will sometimes remind young liberals that all ideas and opinions have the right to be held up to scrutiny even if they may be unworthy of widespread acceptance.
“Ask her the tough questions,” Sanders admonished college students who seemed unwilling to confront conservative personalities like Ann Coulter.
Silencing the opposition, as those who wanted Trump’s Twitter account shut down aimed to do, is not the solution to disagreements of any sort. It would be easy to quote Napoleon by saying, “Never interrupt the enemy when he is making a mistake.” However, conservatives should be made aware that this problem exists if they aren’t already because their social media accounts or websites could be targeted next in a world where Twitter and Facebook do not always bother to seriously review a report before suspending or banning an account.
This does not mean that conservatives should censor what they say beyond showing that they can be the better people who are capable of posting a rational rebuttal to liberal positions instead of panicking and reporting it to Twitter. Let the liberal do the blowing up if it’s going to happen. (I’ve done it. If I were to devote an article to it, the title would probably be, “Liberal Actor Yells At Cloud”.) It just means that conservatives should be aware that they are not posting on a platform that fears a lawsuit for violating their First Amendment rights if their account is suspended. Even GoDaddy can yank someone’s domain registration if it decides that it doesn’t want to be associated with someone’s message. So it may help to find a domain registration service that’s a little more flexible about where its customers are on the political spectrum and avoid insulting a murder victim if at all possible. Trump’s account didn’t get suspended, but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t happen to ordinary people with less clout. It’s better to make use of your own platform if you want to publish your own opinions in a way that the public can see it without getting an account suspended just because someone doesn’t like you.
At least Twitter is capable of getting it right. Sometimes. Just don’t get complacent.