In case you haven’t noticed, Twitter went on a purge last week and banned several alt-right accounts on the back of a bitterly divisive presidential election campaign in America which has split the country in two.
A number of white nationalist and fringe group accounts have been banned from the platform, some of which were engaging in genuine harassment and abuse but others seemed to be banned simply because of their views.
I have no problem with Twitter banning accounts in this fashion, the way I look at it is like this. Twitter is a private company and they can ban whoever they wish for any reason or no reason. When you sign up to use the site you agree to play by their rules. You know, that screen we all skip past and don’t bother to read? Those rules, and how Twitter chooses to enforce the rules is completely down to them.
However, rather than silencing these groups, there is a risk that their message could spread more freely. Banning accounts like this in a purge like this makes them taboo and people end up being naturally interested and want to find out more information.
For years, Twitter billed themselves as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.”
It was always going to backfire at some point. Making statements about the platform of that nature is basically telling people they have licence to do and say what they please. As a result, abuse and harassment on Twitter is rampant at the moment and several high profile users have left in recent years.
Twitter has been under growing public pressure to do something about hate speech on their platform. During the run up to the election in America, the alt right saw a rise on Twitter and their ideology was spread quickly using the platform.
Through racist memes and anonymous attacks on users from pro-Donald Trump accounts, Twitter has found themselves in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons because the approach of “free speech” online is not always a good thing when people are behind the safety of a screen and keyboard.
Twitter’s recent purge has put them in a sticky spot of what is deemed as acceptable speech and what is not. America loves their free speech, it is the first amendment and they love touting that right.
However the first amendment is part of the bill of rights that protects people from government, not private companies. So Twitter has done nothing wrong legally, they are free to do as they please but they run the risk of drawing more attention to alt right groups and their message.
The problem they face is on multiple fronts. What is deemed acceptable and what is not acceptable? Also, should they ban these accounts in such a fashion or should they try ban them more discreetly? Or should they ban them at all?
Perhaps the best move if Twitter is going to remove accounts like this is to not do it all at once in a big purge. Over the past year the company has introduced several features to try help users in the battle against trolls. However there comes a point where the company has to step in themselves and do more to protect users.