Social Media

Kick and Ban

Yesterday, a Twitter employee made the account of Donald Trump disappear for 11 minutes. Twitter’s reaction showed the world how fucked up the company still remains. The incident and their response was a welcome moment of respite in a very long and strenuous nightmare.

Of course, if Twitter’s community rules were anything more than cosmetic, he would’ve been kicked and banned long ago. Threatening nuclear annihilation on an entire nation, for example, is definitely against the rules. We’ve known for a long time that rules don’t apply evenly on Twitter. Bots, literal nazis, white supremacists and harassers benefit from their lax application everyday.
Another funny way they trampled their own policies was when they acknowledged it, as Sarah Jeong remarked.

No doubt, they are flattered that the President of the US uses the platform so actively to keep in touch with his supporters, threaten his enemies in clear violation of their terms of service and pass the time during his bouts of insomnia.
The incident also points to something very peculiar and concerning. Twitter, like all the centralized hegemonic platforms of the day, can’t decide what it wants to be.
The fact that social media platforms are amorphous and yet incredibly impactful allows their managers to take themselves seriously in the worst possible ways. Twitter exec’s freespeech and growth above-all approach doomed the platform to become a toxic wasteway. They should’ve listened when Ariel Waldman brought attention to the escalating harassment on Twitter in 2008. But they weren’t interested in sound community and product management and design — apparently. These things seem trivial when you’re busy re-engineering a new free-speech utopia and raking-in cash in the process.
They completely lost their minds during the Arab spring. People using their products on Tahrir Square in 2011 and the credit that the media gave them inflated their egos. It cemented their belief that giving everyone a voice unfettered by social conventions or fear of consequences was a politically powerful thing and, in their Silicon Valley arrogance, they didn’t pause to think; they soldiered on. Charlie Warzel’s infamous Buzzfeed piece about Twitter’s abuse problem shows this beautifully.
How nothing of what happened in between 2011 and last year’s US election didn’t make them change course is beyond me. It is now clear that, at least, some measure of Russian meddling was involved in the election through social media. Silicon Valley companies, under scrutiny from US Congress and the threat of losing the public’s trust forever, are forced into introspective journeys. Whether it’s for show or earnestly is still unclear. Articles that come out these days are concerning. It appears Twitter, for example, was so obsessed with growth that it slowed down the spam team on purpose and allowed Russian and Ukrainian bots to remain on the platform. Ah!
Our 11 minutes of freedom from Donald Trump’s Twitter and how the company chose to respond shows Twitter hasn’t learned a thing. Is the world going to crumble if the President can’t tweet about nuclear war and/or TV ratings in the Palace at 4am?
It won’t. He and his ilk should be banned. The ideas of free-speech without consequences and growth at all cost should be uprooted from the Valley. Plain and simple. Bots, nazis, white supremacists and harassers should be kicked and banned with full force — IP addresses, device fingerprinting, the technical abilities exist if engineers get on the case.
In the early days of the internet, etiquette was important and you could be banned from IRC channels, forums… for offenses that today would be considered mild. It would sting, you would learn how to behave and move to other IRC servers or forums. Decentralization allowed that. Now Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn see themselves as all-encompassing platforms. But they aren’t the internet and they shouldn’t strive to be. Banning these bad actors is not such a big deal and it is the right thing to do. I know a bot…

Social Media

Twitter keeps the burden of moderation on users

The Buzzfeed piece about Twitter abuse that makes the rounds since last Thursday proves to be a very interesting read. The way the abuse problem has been left to fester is infuriating. So much so that while reading I took notes. Notes laced with profanity. Here are a few thoughts.
Free speech radicalism is an easy extremist tenet to hold in many ways. First, it is often defended by people who don’t know abuse at all. They, therefore, don’t have to make any sacrifices for this radical belief of theirs. Second, it is — in theory — a steadfast policy that protects the company from liabilities. They can then say that they’re a utility and don’t make content decisions.
It stems, however, from a weird idea of free speech. Free speech is great. I wouldn’t want the government to silence me but I want to be held accountable for the shit I say. Free speech radicals seem to have another definition. To many of them, free speech as being allowed to say whatever you want, often without suffering any consequences. Allowing people to be protected from the consequences of shitty actions and shitty words is not a moral imperative. It creates a toxic environment where a few assholes can police the speech of all the others by unleashing barrages of abuse and threats. It doesn’t help foster more productive debates. Just the opposite.
Yet, once people accept something needs to be done, the search for the ‘perfect solution’ begins… This search lead to paralysis as Vivian Schiller is reported as saying in the piece. Extremists always ask for a perfect solution before letting go of their own problematic one. Always seeking to swap an extremism for another. But that’s not how the social space works, that’s not how humans function and communicate. There needs to be moderation in every sense of the word. We need kind and intelligent judgment calls and concessions. There needs to be consistency obviously but no solution will ever be perfect.
Jack Dorsey is quoted as saying “No employee should ever be in the position of having to decide, subjectively, what qualifies as free speech and what does not”. This makes me doubtful that this problem will ever be mitigated. It will always come down to human judgment whether the judgment of a moderator or the judgment of an engineer designing an algorithm. Stress cases will always arise where the meaning of free speech will need to be discussed. Putting the burden completely on the users to moderate is again non-committal safe in the sense that investors might not punish the company and it won’t unleash lawsuits but it won’t fix the problem that for a vast majority of users, being on Twitter is very tiring work, an energy drain and often even a safety concern.
Large organizations all have things they’d rather not discuss (*cough* web governance *cough*), power struggles they’d rather not address, ambiguities that are preserved even if they hurt the business because it is believed that somehow these discussions would never end and distract everyone. I firmly believe leaders should encourage these discussions nonetheless. Especially in this case.