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An End to Politically Motivated #TwitterGulag?

An End to Politically Motivated #TwitterGulag?

Over the weekend, we covered the news of Tony Wang, the general manager of Twitter UK, apologizing to women who have experienced abuse on its site, after a female UK lawmaker and several journalists received threats of violence.

In the face of very public backlash over the threats, Twitter responded by announcing it would be making changes to its policies.

I noted in my coverage that while direct threats of violence clearly cross a line and shouldn’t be tolerated, some of the proposed changes could have unintended consequences.  Further, calls to label certain speech as a “hate crime” are concerning and would set a dangerous precedent, in my opinion.  There needs to be some balance in determining how to handle real threats of violence versus speech that isn’t, well, pleasant.  I’m generally in agreement that Twitter could do some things to help make it easier for targets of credible direct threats of violence or criminal cyberstalking to seek the proper assistance from authorities.  But going too far to monitor speech becomes a slippery slope, and finding the appropriate solutions can be difficult.

One of Twitter’s proposed changes includes extending its mobile platform’s “report abuse” feature to its other platforms.  This is one of those I mentioned has the potential for unintended  consequences, as the  “report for spam” feature is already abused to try and silence some users online.

Interestingly, this very point came up in a recent interview with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo on a variety of related issues.

From the Wall Street Journal (emphasis mine):

Mr. Costolo said he knows the benefits and costs of letting people post on Twitter anonymously—which Facebook doesn’t permit. “Doing so enables political speech in countries where political speech isn’t particularly welcome or worse,” Mr. Costolo said. “We think that’s really important.”

The unavoidable downside, Mr. Costolo said, is that people sometimes tweet “horrible, disgusting revolting things.”

To help counter abuse, Twitter several weeks ago started letting users click on a single button to initiate a report about tweets they believe are malicious. Some 40 employees review those claims.

At the end of July, Mr. Costolo was peppered with questions on Twitter about fears the company was shutting down accounts belonging to critics of Turkey’s government. Twitter says some people in Turkey are trying to silence rivals by reporting them as spammers.

Mr. Costolo said Twitter is trying to quash bogus spam reports that are politically motivated. Answering complaints, he wrote: “We understand the importance of this public, live, conversational platform across the world.”

I’ll add that the abuse of spam-block isn’t limited to dissidents and opposition in other countries.  Politically active folks in the US have experienced this on Twitter from fringe opposition for a long time, and it continues to this day. (Hence, why you’ll see the hashtag #TwitterGulag on occasion).

That said, it will be interesting all-around to see how Twitter plans to handle bogus spam reports.




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Carol Herman | August 5, 2013 at 3:35 pm

“Twitter” has policies, I now gather? Not just “must say in 140 characters, or less? And, substitutions for words with symbols are okay?

Are their members old enough to vote?

Is this just a fad like the hula hoop?

How can you be stalked if you shut off your account? Let alone now you know, besides your parents discovering what you “tweet” … the USA has been data mining the whole system … just to keep up with the department stores?

Too bad the bloke who apologizes isn’t named So Solly. Or Sue Me.

i got put in the Twitter Gulag several times…

three cheers for @ToddKincannon for founding #TGDN

Twitter can never insult because it always insults the intelligence of those addicted to reading its nonsensical approach to societal communications.

And rightfully so since Twitter should really be named “Gotcha.” So when Twitter becomes the news subject rather than a supposed news source, then we have undoubtedly followed the lemmings.

The downside of freedom is that some people always abuse it. Still, freedom is better than the alternative.

    Paul in reply to myiq2xu. | August 5, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    And therein lies the rub. James Madison said it best when arguing in the Federalist papers, “If men were angels, we wouldn’t need government.”

Twitter’s ‘report spam abuse’ works in both directions… a goose & gander thing which liberals figured out first and conservatives soon caught on to.

There is no upside to Twitter investing a money stream in censorship and if they do in spite of such an annual financial drain, it will create an opening to Twitter’s Competition offering no censorship.

#TwitterGulag is triggered by a spam-suppression software program which has a fixed set of software encoded rules.

Know the rules and workarounds and you beat the Twitter Gulag system. Think The Matrix and millions of Neos.

JackRussellTerrierist | August 5, 2013 at 6:03 pm

This whole thing is so stupid I would laugh if it wasn’t so suggestive of how dumb people have become.

If somebody was making threats against another on Twitter or in person or by mail or phone, the call should go to the cops, NOT Twitter. Even if Twitter disallows such speech, how does that prevent the threatening party from carrying out the threat? It doesn’t.

Sticks and stones……….

No matter where you go, city, state, country, etc., there will always be idiots and unsupervised punks making asses of themselves. Speech is speech is speech. Unless there is reason to believe the threats are anything more than some jerk’s yammering, ignore it. If there is reason to believe the threats are serious, call the cops. Twitter has no more to do with it than controlling the nutjob down the street who threatens to do this or that. Who does one call when that sort of thing reaches a serious level? The cops, that’s who, not God who gave the idiot a voice box in the first place.

These dumb broads just want to be “victims” and get the attention that goes with it. They want to brag that they were the “power” that forced Twitter to change its policies.

Be careful what you wish for, ladies.

bikermailman | August 6, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I wound up with a three strikes and out situation for this. Nothing more than basic snark, replying to tweets that people I follow, they followed me, and they’re like minded people. What got my account closed was when the Kill the Babies protest was being planned in Austin a while back, I simply commented on the need for soap and deodorant in that crowd. I was suspended less than five minutes later. I went through the usual appeal process, didn’t hear a thing from them, so after ten days, tried again, nothing. Three weeks after this started, I tried again, finally got a short “abuse of rules, account closed” letter. Then two weeks later I start getting spammed. From twitter. Nine emails in one day, all saying “we noticed you haven’t been back, hope your problem got resolved”. Haven’t bothered starting a new account.

Theoretically, we can flag leftists’ comments right back. It’s detente.