In recent weeks, the buzz surrounding popular social media app Twitter has been clouded by conversations about privacy and the right to freedoms. This has been spurred on by the announcement that Elon Musk is buying Twitter for $44 billion dollars with the aim of axing the censorship that is currently enforced on the site.
Twitter claimed its censorship policy does not restrict users based on their political views, but prominent members of the Conservative party have frequently complained that they are being banned or ‘shadow-banned,’ meaning their tweets become less visible. While at the Met Gala last week, Musk was advertising his takeover of the service as making Twitter as “broadly inclusive as possible with ideally most of America on it and talking”. These two descriptions promote idealistic versions of a user face which supports inclusivity and activity, however in reality, these two versions cannot exist.
The concept of Twitter feeds on drama and the collision of personalities, interacting through the keyboard. With Twitter already a notorious site for trolling, cancel-culture and outspoken language, any relaxation of rules and regulation will simply add fuel to the fire.
I guess we will not know until it is too late. Activist Jameela Jamil is already warning of the impact this may have in her last tweet on April 25th “…I fear this free speech bid is going to help this hell platform reach its final form of totally lawless hate, bigotry and misogyny”. She was not alone with many others taking to online forums to share their disagreement with the proposal, warning audiences of the future dangers, not just from politics but the standards surrounding our behavior online and offline.
Comments made by Tucker Carlson referred to the acquisition of Twitter as the ‘single biggest political development since Donald’s Trump election back in 2016’. The Fox news presented was previously banned after using insensitive language and violating Twitter’s transgender rules. The presenter was back minutes after the announcement, praising Musk and his aims. Carlson comments were argued as free speech and ‘off the cuff’ banter but there should be a limit to how far freedom goes when it becomes hurtful and divisive. It is hard to find the facts when there are so many sides to the story, and it is even harder when our judgment is skewed already. The social media arena is deceptive and highly addictive and even spending an hour on TikTok we are blissfully unaware (or at least we don’t acknowledge) of how targeted and specific the algorithms are at pinpointing and demanding what we consume and the information we find. The platforms acts as if they understand and know you. It is ignorant to argue that we are not persuaded and led as soon as we log in online.
Online spaces allow anonymity and give voice but when these spaces are increasingly unmonitored, such as Musk’s plans, it is hard to contain and regulate justice. Identity is less rigid online as individuals can open multiple versions of themselves. Their activity through posting, retweeting and blocking is instantaneous and easy to contribute to online discussions. The only consequence is being suspended or blocked, a way of dealing with hate and injustice according to Twitter. But one argument could be who and why are those in power such as the censorship team, taking down posts and censoring people’s point of view? Is this a form of control and surveillance on a global and digital scale and what are the motivations?
Accountability and respect concerns are called into question when the discipline and threat of suspension now holds no power. As some believe the new twitter will do good as free speech is argued to be a true sign of democracy. Yet should democracy be governed and what is true democracy? Is verbal abuse and degrading language towards a group of people considered to be accepted under the veil of freedom of speech or should there be rules and right online in place as they are offline? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 already contains issues of privacy, freedom of living and equal treatment no matter of creed or colour. This needs an update, especially in our technologically driven society, we must question whether digital rights and law be more heavily imposed and upheld. Just because the spaces of misogyny, xenophobia and bigotry are not in person, it does not mean they have no effect!
So could this New Twitter and vision increase our perspective as everyone is included in the debate, have no long standing impact, or will the lack of accountability further polarize our society not only politically but overall? Only time will tell, but I’m not holding out much hope.
– Lucy Tunsley
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