WASHINGTON, August 7, 2019 — As the second anniversary of the Unite the Right rally approaches, activists are calling for Twitter to ban key advocates of white supremacy from its platform.
David Duke, Richard Spencer, and other key organizers of the alt-right rally—which left counter-protester Heather Heyer dead after a white supremacist deliberately rammed his car into a crowd—still have access to their Twitter accounts. That allows them to spread their ideologies to tens of thousands of followers.
Change the Terms, a coalition of more than 50 human, civil, and digital rights groups, on Wednesday petitioned Twitter in a conference call and press release to ban these and other controversial speakers from their platform—and expand their content moderation policies.
“The deadly Unite the Right rally was planned on social media, and our community is still feeling the profound impact of that violence today,” said Don Gathers, co-founder of the Charlottesville chapter of Black Lives Matter. “It’s time these companies use their terms of service to keep white supremacists off Twitter and reduce the hate that leads to tragedy.”
The coalition has put together a set of recommended policies for corporations to adopt to address dangerous hate speech on their platforms, which Change the Terms defines as “activities that incite or engage in violence, intimidation, harassment, threats, or defamation targeting an individual or group based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”
The definition was written in an attempt to mirror language from existing hate crime laws, in which courts have said that particular types of speech are not protected under the First Amendment.
In response to criticism, Twitter has repeatedly referred to its existing content policy, which prohibits users from threatening or glorifying violence, targeted harassment, and hateful conduct. But critics argue that these policies are not being enforced and that they should be more comprehensive.
Critics argue, however, that these policies are not being enforced and that Twitter’s approach needs to be more comprehensive.
“When Twitter gives well-known white supremacists a platform, even after they have been deemed too extreme by Facebook and YouTube, their company becomes complicit in normalizing racism and the hateful acts inspired by it,” said Jessica González, vice president of strategy at Free Press.
“How white supremacy has become normalized directly connects to Twitter,” said Lisa Woolfork, a professor at the University of Virginia. “Extreme discourse has become not-so-extreme anymore. We are anesthetized to its toxicity.”
Fringe platforms such as 8chan may be magnets for anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic ideologies, but Twitter is where these ideas become mainstream, said MediaJustice Co-Director Steven Renderos. He added that American culture is increasingly being shaped by social media.
White supremacy is not a new ideology, Woolfork said. But the ease with which its proponents can spread their ideas to a global audience is unprecedented. Twitter’s current policies amplify the harms of white supremacy, she continued, and as a leading global communications platform, it has a responsibility to consider this harm and take action to stop it.
Among other white nationalists enjoying access to wide-reaching audiences on the platform is conspiracy theorist Renaud Camus, whose anti-immigrant writings were cited by the gunmen who attacked in El Paso and Christchurch, New Zealand as an inspiration. Camus still uses Twitter to defending his thinking.
“From Charlottesville two years ago to El Paso this week, we’ve seen the tragic outcomes of white nationalism spreading on Twitter, made even more dangerous every time Trump is allowed to tweet his bigoted rhetoric,” said Brandi Collins-Dexter, senior campaign director for Color Of Change.
While Change the Terms is not explicitly calling for Trump’s account to be banned, MediaJustice Co-Director Steven Renderos emphasized the importance of platforms proactively enforcing their content policies across all accounts, even those belonging to prominent politicians.
White nationalists are taking advantage of online platforms like Twitter to harass marginalized communities, build power and organizational strength, and amplify violent ideologies, said Collins-Dexter, calling for Twitter’s leadership to “get over their fear of conservative backlash and fully stamp out discrimination on the platform.”
(Photo of Brandi Collins-Dexter of Color of Change by New America, used with permission.)
Parler Policy Exec Hopes ‘Sustainable’ Free Speech Change on Twitter if Musk Buys Platform
Parler’s Amy Peikoff said she wishes Twitter can follow in her social media company’s footsteps.
WASHINGTON, May 16, 2022 – A representative from a growing conservative social media platform said last week that she hopes Twitter, under new leadership, will emerge as a “sustainable” platform for free speech.
Amy Peikoff, chief policy officer of social media platform Parler, said as much during a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday, in which she wondered about the implications of platforms banning accounts for views deemed controversial.
The social media world has been captivated by the lingering possibility that SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk could buy Twitter, which the billionaire has criticized for making decisions he said infringe on free speech.
Before Musk’s decision to go in on the company, Parler saw a surge in member sign-ups after former President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for comments he made that the platform saw as encouraging the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021, a move Peikoff criticized. (Trump also criticized the move.)
Peikoff said she believes Twitter should be a free speech platform just like Parler and hopes for “sustainable” change with Musk’s promise.
“At Parler, we expect you to think for yourself and curate your own feed,” Peikoff told Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark. “The difference between Twitter and Parler is that on Parler the content is controlled by individuals; Twitter takes it upon itself to moderate by itself.”
She recommended “tools in the hands of the individual users to reward productive discourse and exercise freedom of association.”
Peikoff criticized Twitter for permanently banning Donald Trump following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and recounted the struggle Parler had in obtaining access to hosting services on AWS, Amazon’s web services platform.
While she defended the role of Section 230 of the Telecom Act for Parler and others, Peikoff criticized what she described as Twitter’s collusion with the government. Section 230 provides immunity from civil suits for comments posted by others on a social media network.
For example, Peikoff cited a July 2021 statement by former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki raising concerns with “misinformation” on social media. When Twitter takes action to stifle anti-vaccination speech at the behest of the White House, that crosses the line into a form of censorship by social media giants that is, in effect, a form of “state action.”
Conservatives censored by Twitter or other social media networks that are undertaking such “state action” are wrongfully being deprived of their First Amendment rights, she said.
“I would not like to see more of this entanglement of government and platforms going forward,” she said Peikoff and instead to “leave human beings free to information and speech.”
The acquisition of social media powerhouse Twitter by Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, raises a host of issues about social media, free speech, and the power of persuasion in our digital age. Twitter already serves as the world’s de facto public square. But it hasn’t been without controversy, including the platform’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump in the wake of his tweets during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Under new management, will Twitter become more hospitable to Trump and his allies? Does Twitter have a free speech problem? How will Mr. Musk’s acquisition change the debate about social media and Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act?
Guests for this Broadband Breakfast for Lunch session:
- Amy Peikoff, Chief Policy Officer, Parler
- Drew Clark (host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast
Amy Peikoff is the Chief Policy Officer of Parler. After completing her Ph.D., she taught at universities (University of Texas, Austin, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, United States Air Force Academy) and law schools (Chapman, Southwestern), publishing frequently cited academic articles on privacy law, as well as op-eds in leading newspapers across the country on a range of issues. Just prior to joining Parler, she founded and was President of the Center for the Legalization of Privacy, which submitted an amicus brief in United States v. Facebook in 2019.
Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.
As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
Leave Section 230 Alone, Panelists Urge Government
The debate on what government should — or shouldn’t — do with respect to liability protections for platforms continues.
WASHINGTON, May 10, 2022 – A panelist at a Heritage Foundation event on Thursday said that the government should not make changes to Section 230, which protects online platforms from being liable for the content their users post.
However, the other panelist, Newsweek Opinion Editor Josh Hammer, said technology companies have been colluding with the government to stifle speech. Hammer said that Section 230 should be interpreted and applied more vigorously against tech platforms.
Countering this view was Niam Yaraghi, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.
“While I do agree with the notion that what these platforms are doing is not right, I am much more optimistic” than Hammer, Yaraghi said. “I do not really like the government to come in and do anything about it, because I believe that a capitalist market, an open market, would solve the issue in the long run.”
Addressing a question from the moderator about whether antitrust legislation or stricter interpretation of Section 230 should be the tool to require more free speech on big tech platforms, Hammer said that “Section 230 is the better way to go here.”
Yaraghi, by contrast, said that it was incumbent on big technology platforms to address content moderation, not the government.
In March, Vint Cerf, a vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google, and the president of tech lobbyist TechFreedom warned against government moderation of content on the internet as Washington focuses on addressing the power of big tech platforms.
While some say Section 230 only protects “neutral platforms”, others claim it allows powerful companies to ignore user harm. Legislation from the likes of Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., would exempt 230 protections for platforms that fail to address Covid mis- and disinformation.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., agreed that Section 230 only protected “neutral platforms,” or that it allowed tech companies to ignore user harm. Wyden, one of the authors of the provision in the 1996 Telecom Act, instead believes that the law is a “sword and shield” to protect against small companies, organizations and movements against legal liability for what users post on their websites.
Additional correction: A previous version of this story misattributed a statement by Niam Yaraghi to Josh Hammer. The story has been corrected, and additional context added.
FCC Commissioner Carr Hopes Musk Follows Through on Proposed Twitter Speech Reforms
Carr said he’s “very glad to hear” of Musk’s Twitter purchase, but still thinks Section 230 reform is necessary.
WASHINGTON, May 6, 2022 – On Friday Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr praised billionaire Elon Musk’s proposed free speech policy for Twitter following Musk’s purchase of the platform.
Musk has pledged that under his ownership, Twitter will permit any speech from users.
Speaking at the Free State Foundation’s Annual Policy Conference, Carr stated that he is “very glad to hear” of Musk’s purchase but that speech reform online should not depend upon trusting a billionaire owner and thus Section 230 reform should still take place.
During the event Carr also offered insights on issues ranging from the outlook of the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s deployment to spectrum debates in the release of 5G.
He called for aggression from the FCC in enforcing spectrum matters, saying the FCC was entitled to approve the release of 5G networks early this year when the safety of such releases were successfully challenged and delayed by the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation.
Praising the opportunity of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Carr stated that for the first time he is aware of there are now “enough federal resources to end the digital divide in this country.”
Later in the event, representatives from industry groups spoke to what they said are significant challenges facing deployment of infrastructure bill funds.
Former FCC chairman and NCTA – The Internet & Television Association president and CEO Michael Powell said that challenges lie in the Commerce Department and Treasury’s disbursement of bill funds because they have much less skill and experience working with broadband than other government departments do.
He also said the existence of multiple, unintegrated broadband access maps to base disbursement on is a potential road bump as well as the issue of whether individual states can overrule federal maps should they prefer any maps they’ve created on their own.
US Telecom’s president and CEO Jonathan Spalter said that for many of his group’s members it will be difficult to meet the Buy America requirements of the infrastructure bill.
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