Is Twitter going to curb free speech in the name of controlling abuse?

Curbing free speech or controlling abuse on Twitter
Curbing free speech or controlling abuse on Twitter

There is a very thin line that divides freedom of expression and abuse. On the other hand, again, there is a very thin line that divides controlling abuse and suppressing dissent. Twitter empowers people to express themselves without getting confined with communication limitations. Here Twitter is just a representation of the collective social networking diaspora that is suddenly triggering revolutions and toppling governments all over the world.

Trolls used to be a stuff of folklore and sometimes horror movies before they became synonymous with harassing people on the Internet, especially on Twitter. Got an opinion on something? Do you openly express your political opinions? Do you take postures regarding the environment, particular football teams or cricket players or filmstars? Then one way or another you must have come across some sort of abuse on Twitter. Some people like your opinion, some agree with you, some disagree with you and some start abusing you because they disagree with you. They might not be dangerous individuals, but they make communication on the social networking website distasteful and for some, even impossible. Lots of individuals stop using Twitter because there is lots of abuse. Many feel that this is a big reason why new users who would otherwise have joined the network, are reluctant to join. Sometimes, it is sort of, free for all on Twitter.

Already going through a difficult patch, Twitter has decided to tackle the problem of abuse and hatred by forming a “Trust & Safety Council” to maintain a balance between abuse and free speech. The council, according to this Twitter blog post update, comprises of 40 organisations and experts from 13 regions, in the beginning. These organisations and experts have been long working in the fields of bullying, defamation law, democracy and technology, child safety and cyber civil rights, just to name a few.

It isn’t clear at the outset what these organisations and experts are going to do while being a part of this trust & safety council. Are they going to monitor your conversations? Are they going to tell Twitter which tweets should be allowed and which tweets should be deleted? Is Twitter going to work with them while formulating its guidelines and policies? Are these councilmembers going to go through individual tweets to rate them as abusive or exercising freedom of speech?

Although definitely there needs to be a mechanism that can monitor and curtail abuse on Twitter, such councils can quickly become political as it has often been seen all around the world. These organisations end up taking sides according to their political and ideological affiliations. Even Green Peace, Amnesty International and the United Nations are not divorced from political interests. So whether this group will be used to curb free speech on Twitter or control abuse remains to be seen.

About Amrit Hallan
Amrit Hallan is the founder of He writes about technology not because "he loves to write about technology", he actually believes that it makes the world a better place. On Twitter you can follow him at @amrithallan

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