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So have you gotten into an argument on Twitter yet today?
It’s not a hard thing to do with people of all ages and backgrounds coming together in one space, to share their opinions on everything from politics, to their favourite TV shows, current events and everything in between. It seems there isn’t a single topic – controversial or otherwise – that hasn’t been examined from every angle in the Twitter-verse, and for the most part, people are free to say whatever they want about basically any topic. So how did Twitter become the king of free speech?
We’ll get into that, but first, let’s get a sense of where the company currently stands:
About 500 million tweets are sent per day from 330 million monthly active users, 80% of which are tweeting from their phones. There are 68 million active Twitter users in the US, which is about one-fifth of the total population. There are also 262 million international users with the highest numbers coming from Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. On the business side, Twitter had just over $3 billion in revenue in 2018, and that number is expected to increase by about 20% by the end of 2019. The market cap as of December 2019 is $23.7 billion, and the valuation is hovering around $16 billion.
In the social media world, Twitter comes in at the lower end of the top 10 most popular social media sites, surpassed by Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and a few others. Now, let’s take a look now at how this growing social media site got its start.
Twitter came out of the failure of a start-up called Odeo. Well, This means I have already broke for you!
Haven’t you read the article “The True Twitter Story! How Twitter started?“
But for now, let’s continue how did Twitter become the king of free speech?
Twitter’s stated mission is “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information, and to express their opinions and beliefs without barriers.” Twitter’s freedom of speech philosophy came into the spotlight during a few major events with global implications. In 2009, Iranian election protesters sought out Twitter as a platform to air their grievances and organize real-world protest operations. The United States State Department even requested that Twitter put off scheduled maintenance in order to keep those communication channels open at the time of the election.
In 2011 during the Arab Spring, comprising of anti-government uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, Twitter was the platform of choice for many of those in the affected countries wanting to express their opinions, call for collective action, and organize protests.
During these uprisings, the use of Twitter more than doubled in several Arab countries. Twitter became widely known as a place where voices would not be silenced, but there’s more to free speech than these positive aspects…
Twitter’s ‘anything goes’ policy has a dark side as well. Harassment, abuse, propaganda, and bots were rampant on the platform from the beginning, and all of these elements continue to be serious areas of concern today. You are typically free to take your deepest, darkest thought and post it for everyone to see even if that thought is hateful, racist, unpopular, or taboo. Of course, you aren’t immune from consequences outside of Twitter, as many people have found out after they posted such thoughts and consequently got fired or were berated by people around the world.
The question of free speech that Twitter is forced to examine is one that all social media sites face: Where exactly do you draw the line?
Ultimately, Twitter executives determined they would forbid direct threats of violence, hateful imagery, repeated instances of dehumanizing language such as racial slurs, and wishing harm on a person or group. In this way, they are attempting to frame even the restrictions they have put in place as a way to protect free speech.
What is the cost of these free speech policies?
In 2015, Twitter CEO wrote an internal memo that stated, He went on to say that this was costing them users and was something that would need to be dealt with. However, Twitter has put itself in a box by being so vocal about their free speech platform. Any move curtailing speech of any kind would open the company up to major backlash. At the same time, Twitter runs the risk of developing an even more pronounced reputation for being a toxic online community if they don’t take additional steps to protect their users and the legitimacy of the platform. One example of the controversy they have dealt with is that Twitter has been accused of shadow banning certain accounts. This is when the visibility of an account and its contents is suppressed on the feeds and the trending topics without the account holder being notified that this is happening.
Twitter has denied that they use this practice but do say that they identify “bad-faith actors who intend to manipulate or divide the system and rank them lower in the search results. These people can still say just about anything they want within the guidelines of Twitter, but they won’t get as big of an audience.
Twitter says they identify these accounts based on the actions taken on the site like who they retweet and follow as well as whether the account appears to be authentic. Of course, this practice has been criticized by people who feel they are being targeted unfairly, but Twitter stands by their process, saying that it has led to a reduced number of reported abuse and spam.
In more recent discussions among the higher-ups at Twitter, including CEO Jack Dorsey, a new top priority is emerging that is challenging the long-held belief that free expression comes before all else. Dorsey stated that “safety should come first” and said that a conversation needs to be had about how safety can be maintained while also preserving free speech.
Twitter will likely also attempt to be more transparent about its internal process of reviewing content as they have been highly criticized in the past for failing to do so. More than ever, Twitter recognizes the myriad of issues connected with being the self-proclaimed center of free speech in the social media world. understanding what to do about these issues is an entirely different matter that Twitter hasn’t quite mastered, yet.
From the beginning, Twitter has been committed to providing a space where people could share their thoughts and opinions without restrictions. Over time they have had to temper this “anything goes” mentality in order to decrease harassment, trolling, and abuse on the platform that was driving away users. Well, these elements are still issues for the site today. Nevertheless, they remain the king of free speech because of their strong policies that largely allow everyone to share ideas, opinions, and information without limits with the understanding that direct threats, abuse, and harassment will not be tolerated. There are countless examples of content that’s been allowed to remain on Twitter while similar content has been removed from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media sites.
However, the free speech landscape is becoming increasingly complex, and Twitter will have to walk a fine line to maintain their title…
Twitter has the capacity on their current servers to handle 18 quintillion user accounts. That’s 2.4 billion times the 7.5 billion people that live on Earth as of 2019. That’s much higher than the current 330 million active accounts, and according to the University of Southern California study, as high as 15% of these could be bot accounts.