French Politician Wants Twitter To Help Censor Speech

from the this-is-a-problem dept

Glenn Greenwald recently wrote a wonderful post about a journalist’s “praise” for a call by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a French politician, for Twitter to take responsibility for “hateful tweets” which are “illegal.” I’ll be doing another post specific to Greenwald’s post, but for this one I just want to focus on the part he glossed over: that a French politician is calling for Twitter “to take steps to help prosecute” tweets that France feels are illegal. This is horrifying for a number of reasons, but let’s cover one that Greenwald doesn’t touch: the idea that a company providing a platform that encourages free speech around the globe should somehow then be responsible for regulating the speech to the point of legal prosecutions against people seems immensely troubling. If someone said something illegal, let law enforcement investigate and handle it. Putting that responsibility on a company is dangerous, and leads to massive censorship. That is the very basis of the Great Firewall of China. The government there has made it clear to ISPs there that they might be held liable if they don’t “help” make sure that “bad stuff” online doesn’t see the light of day. The response is to overblock, just to be “safe.”

Somehow, well meaning people seem to think that “bad” speech is just obvious. But it’s not. Speech is speech, and whether or not it’s “good” or “bad” may very much depend on an individual’s context, sense of humor, situation in life or a variety of other issues. To think that Twitter, or any company, should be in a position to make decisions about a person’s ability to speak based on such amorphous concepts is a recipe for disaster — and basically runs counter to everything that a service like Twitter is about. Vallaud-Belkacem’s logic follows the standard censor’s argument — claiming that freedom of expression is important… except for speech she doesn’t like.

For what it’s worth, I agree 100% that the tweets she’s complaining about are offensive and disgusting. But to pin the blame on Twitter is to totally misplace it. It actually serves to take the focus off of those who actually posted the controversial posts, and suggest that if only we hid speech we didn’t like, it would go away. That’s not what happens. Instead, those who are censored tend to believe that they’re being persecuted by a government (or company) that “can’t handle the truth” and wants to shut them up. It doesn’t encourage the ignorant to be taught why they’re ignorant. It doesn’t encourage important discussions on why such statements are ridiculous and offensive. Instead, it just tries to sweep everything under the rug.

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Comments on “French Politician Wants Twitter To Help Censor Speech”

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Anonymous Coward says:

this is just a further extension to get yet someone else to do at their expense what the entertainment industries want done. if it isn’t Google under the cosh, it’s Facebook or another company. i dont believe in censoring the ‘net at all, but if someone wants to introduce censoring, at least have the guts to admit why it is wanted and then pay for it. expecting others to do the dirty work while trying to be kept looking squeaky clean yourself is a cowards way!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Jason doesn't get it

Jason Farago of The Guardian wrote:

We keep thinking that the solution to bad speech is more speech. But even in the widest and most robust network, common sense and liberal-democratic moderation are not going to win the day, and it’s foolhardy to imagine that, say, homophobic tweets are best mitigated with gay-friendly ones.

This betrays his basic lack of understanding of what the “more free speech” maxim is saying. It’s not that, to use his example, homophobic speech is countered with gay-friendly speech. It’s that homophobic speech is countered with denunciations of that speech and the people who engage in it. It’s a huge, and fundamental, difference.

That One Guy (profile) says:

You know, if he’s asking Twitter to take a pro-active stance towards offensive tweets, that seems to open the door to what would be a very effective form of protest Twitter could do: Simply block all french twitter users, with a message that Twitter finds the idea of being asked to be the morality cops for france offensive, not to mention expensive, and so to be safe they’re blocking everything.

Do that for even a day or two, and the backlash against the moronic politicians trying to get Twitter to play censor would be huge.

Kurata says:

Homophobic speeches, as well as racism is not allowed in France at all though, even as part of free speech, and that is written in the law.
For one, France is currently fighting a wave of racism and is, and has always been trying to fight it. I don’t know whether that would be an abuse of censorship or not, but I feel we do not need to show hatred toward specific people, whether publically or privately.

On the other hand, expecting twitter to moderate all the tweets it gets is a bit like asking youtube to review each video one by one to check which ones should be allowed and which ones should not.

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