Just over a week ago, Tommy Robinson joined a growing list high-profile people subject to a permanent ban from Twitter. This follows increased pressure from politicians and the government to curb ‘hate speech’ even though the term is vague, entirely subjective and has no universal definition. Twitter and Facebook are capitulating to left-wing totalitarianism.
Censorship of the internet was originally the preserve of the likes of China, Iran and North Korea. How times are changing.
Government threats of huge fines are a key driver of this. Germany recently introduced the possibility of a 50m euro fine for failing to remove ‘hate speech’. In the UK the possibility of a ‘bully tax’ (hate speech levy) has been proposed by Prime Minister Theresa May. These threats have resulted in Facebook and Twitter taking action to “dramatically increase the number of abusive accounts it removes.”
Twitter once claimed to be “the free speech wing of the free speech party” and its CEO Jack Dorsey claims Twitter stands for freedom of expression.Dorsey should be reminded that the definition of freedom of expression is “the power or right to express one’s opinions without censorship, restraint, or legal penalty.”
The closing down of free speech in terms of social media started in July 2016 with conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos being permanently banned from the micro-blogging platform. This escalated in November 2017, when Twitter started removing the ‘blue tick’ verified accreditation from a number of accounts. The permanent suspension of Robinson highlights a new wave in the closing down of free speech and particularly those of prominent conservative voices.
As private company, can Twitter choose who to do business with?
In 2009 the British High Court ruled that a pub landlord is not obliged to serve anyone who comes in and is willing to pay, citing a “common-law right.” This case is interesting because it tackled the debate around public and private – a “public house” and “public bar” were argued to be public spaces and this was rejected.
You cannot force a company to trade with you. It’s impossible. If there was a law stating companies had to trade with you, you’d never be refused a loan. However, if a company administers public space, then you could argue they administer the space and not the people or voices in it.
So is social media a public space, akin to Speakers’ Corner, or a private place like a local pub?
On Twitter, if your account is unprotected everything you say is in the public domain. You don’t need to be connected in any way to the people who are able to interact with you. Users of social media view these platforms as public venues even though they are hosted on private servers.
Anything you say can be used in civil and even criminal proceedings, with the justification being that the information is essentially “public in nature” and does not “generate the subjective expectation of privacy protection.”
Twitter itself was banned by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan in 2014, as members of the opposition posted recordings and messages hinting at corruption. The ban lasted two weeks and the country’s highest court ruled that the ban “violated freedom of expression.” Therefore, we can conclude the platform is necessary in the interests of freedom of expression.
A group of Twitter users filed a lawsuit against President Trump when he blocked them on the platform. They argued that the President’s use of Twitter for official Government communications has transformed the company’s private platform into a public space. They argued @realdonaldtrump is “a designated public forum” under the First Amendment.
With an active user base of 650 million worldwide, Twitter has a UK market share of 11 per cent and Facebook has a market share of 77 per cent. Between the two, they occupy 88 per cent of the social media and user-generated content market. Being banned from these two platforms will exclude your voice from the majority of the public on social media. This would severely impact an independent journalist such as Tommy Robinson being able to reach his audience.
As The Register outlined in November, removing the verified status (and banning users) actually opens Twitter up to a greater potential for lawsuits.
They explain: “…if you have a blue tick on your account, Twitter’s staff agree with what you say. If you have a blue tick withdrawn, Twitter employees no longer approve of what you say and have edited your account to remove their endorsement. The blue tick is no longer a mere ‘this person is definitely who they claim to be’ verification of identity. Put another way, Twitter staff are using the tick as an editorial seal of approval.”
The current situation is a farce. At the time of writing, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi @alqaradawy the leader of the proscribed terror organisation the Muslim Brotherhood, remains a verified and active account on Twitter. This man claims the killing of apostates is “essential for Islam to survive” and has praised Hitler and the Holocaust. In January, Al-Qaradawi was sentenced in Egypt to life in prison for incitement to murder, spreading false news and vandalising public property. The Muslim Brotherhood is also a banned group in Egypt.
Twitter believes this man deserves a voice, but conservative journalists do not.
Twitter should return to the original concept of verification of public figures and let the public make their own mind up. If they break the law, let the authorities take action.
As the saying goes: “If you’re not being charged for the service, you are the product.” In truth, companies like Facebook and Twitter couldn’t care less about your views. They care about your data and the ability to profit from it.
They should be arguing themselves that they are a public space, in the interests of their business model and their shareholders.
If they continue on their current path, who knows how much of the market they are prepared to sacrifice in the name of virtue signalling? No wonder analysts at Morgan Stanley predict a 50 per cent drop in Twitter’s share price.
Standing up for those without a voice in Britain
Follow our man Matt Lynch on Twitter @MattLynchGB!
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