Should tech companies censor speech? | The Tylt

Should tech companies censor speech?

Cesar Sayoc, the man suspected of sending more than a dozen pipe bombs to political targets, is also a prolific Twitter troll. Sayoc was reported numerous times for sending threatening tweets to political targets, yet each time the platform deigned to ban him. Robert Bowers, who shot and killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue, said he was carrying out the attack in response to the "massive human caravans" coming from South America. The president has spread panic about the caravan using Twitter. The site consistently refuses to police speech on the platform. Should there be more oversight?

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Political consultant Rochelle Ritchie was personally harassed by pipe bomber Cesar Sayoc. Even though she reported Sayoc to Twitter for threatening language, the site refused to remove his account. 

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Adam Serwer wrote for The Atlantic that Robert Bowers, the man who massacred 11 worshipers in a synagogue, was spurred to this horrendous act of violence by tweets sent out by the president. 

The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election. There is no political gesture, no public statement, and no alteration in rhetoric or behavior that will change this fact. The shooter might have found a different reason to act on a different day. But he chose to act on Saturday, and he apparently chose to act in response to a political fiction that the president himself chose to spread and that his followers chose to amplify.
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Twitter claims it bans anyone who posts abusive content, yet many trolls like Sayoc are savvy enough to avoid specific language that would result in a ban. The site also consistently errs on the side of trolls, allowing them to use language that falls just short of actual threats. Quartz reports: 

According to Twitter’s rules, abusive behavior is “an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice,” and the company specifically lays out four scenarios that merit Twitter taking action. These include violent threats; abusive slurs, epithets, racist, or sexist tropes; abusive content that reduces someone to less than human; and content that incites fear. In the case of Sayoc’s tweet to Ritchie, the threat is confusing—what exactly does a “nice silent Air boat ride” mean?—and the “hug your loved ones” bit isn’t a slur or violent, but the intent seems quite clear: Sayoc is, again, attempting to intimidate Ritchie. From The New York Times’ review of Sayoc’s tweets at politicians, it seems like “see you soon” was a phrase he used often in his threats.
...Like Sayoc’s tweet to Ritchie, many harassers’ behavior falls just short of what Twitter traditionally defines as harassment, but are stillclearly quite threatening or dangerous. In an interview with Amnesty International, writer Jessica Valenti said that only obvious, direct threatshave gotten Twitter’s attention. “That’s part of the problem,” she added. “Harassers can be savvy and know what they can say that’s not going to get them kicked off a site or not illegal.
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In 2017, writer Monique Judge wrote a detailed examination of Twitter's consistent reluctance to ban trolls for The Root. She talked to Mike Monteiro, a designer based in San Francisco, who has been vocal about confronting Twitter on its lack of response to harassment. Twitter consistently uses the excuse that it is difficult to find and ban trolls and bigots on the site, but according to Monteiro, that's not necessarily accurate. 

Monteiro points to Twitter’s operations in Germany as an example of its inaction against harassment, abusers and Nazis in the United States.
Germany has an anti-hate-speech rule. It’s against the law to say positive things about Nazis, display swastikas, etc. In order for Twitter to operate in Germany, it has had to identify all the accounts and all of the tweets that would not be allowed in Germany. In fact, if you go into your settings and switch your location from the U.S. to Germany, those people will all disappear from your feed.
It seems like it would be an easy fix for Twitter to flip that same switch here in the U.S., but Monteiro said he believes that will never happen.
'If they flip the switch, white people would be upset,' Monteiro said. 'They are willing to let people get harassed and abused as long as it doesn’t fall back on them.'
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After months of issues including persistent spreading of false news stories and violent conspiracy theories, Facebook and other social media sites removed all content from Alex Jones and his Infowars site. Yet mere weeks before the sites acted, they were stating that they did not want to police user content. CNN reported in July that Facebook's head of News Feed, John Hegeman, defended the decision to continue hosting content from Infowars.

'I guess just for being false that doesn't violate the community standards,' Hegeman said, explaining that InfoWars has 'not violated something that would result in them being taken down.' Hegeman added, 'I think part of the fundamental thing here is that we created Facebook to be a place where different people can have a voice. And different publishers have very different points of view.'

Facebook maintained the site was meant to nurture free speech and encourage the open sharing of ideas, even if those ideas did not necessary line up with the company's beliefs.

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After Facebook removed Infowars' content from their platform, the site's editor-at-large took to Twitter to decry the move.

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Even with the social media platform's lenient approach to editing their users, they have faced harsh criticism from some, most prominently the president himself. Per Politico

President Donald Trump on Saturday took to Twitter to allege social media companies are discriminating against prominent conservatives, saying 'we won’t let that happen.'
'Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices. Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen. They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others.......' the president tweeted.
'.....Censorship is a very dangerous thing & absolutely impossible to police. If you are weeding out Fake News, there is nothing so Fake as CNN & MSNBC, & yet I do not ask that their sick behavior be removed. I get used to it and watch with a grain of salt, or don’t watch at all.'
FINAL RESULTS
Politics
Should tech companies censor speech?
#BanHateSpeech
A festive crown for the winner
#ProtectFreeSpeech