Twitter Reports On Government Agencies Using 'Report Tweet' Function To Block Terrorism-Related Content
from the reporting-the-reporters dept
Twitter’s latest Transparency Report contains a new section that shows some governments may be trying to use Twitter’s own rules to achieve censorious goals. Legislators and misguided lawsuit plaintiffs have been complaining for years social media services don’t do enough to curtail terrorists and terrorism-related content. This has been the subject of multiple lawsuits and multiple Congressional hearings.
However, governments can only do so much to pressure social media services into regulating content. If the government steps in to set the rules, then it crosses the line. The US government has, so far, been unwilling to act as a direct censor of content. Other governments have no qualms about censorship, but have found their efforts somewhat blunted by Facebook, Twitter, etc. being US-based companies, where compliance with foreign directives is a nicety, not a legal requirement. Of course, both companies have voluntarily acted as local censors in response to foreign laws and legal threats.
Fortunately for these governments, Twitter has a way to let them achieve their censorship goals without having to resort to legal threats or new legislation. The new way to control content lies in the site’s terms of service, as the Twitter blog post points out.
For the latest reporting period (July – December 2016), this new section is limited to data about government reports to remove content in violation of Twitter’s terms of service (TOS) against the promotion of terrorism. This does not include any legal requests, regardless of whether they result in a TOS violation, which will continue to be published in our Removals Requests report.
For the last six months of 2016, Twitter received reports on nearly 6,000 accounts from a total of 716 reports by government agencies. The numbers aren’t broken down any further than that, so there’s no telling which governments are utilizing this reporting system most. All Twitter is reporting is that less than 2% of account suspensions are the result of government reports and that it’s refused to act on 15% of government-reported accounts. Each account is counted only once, even if there are multiple reports or multiple tweets reported by government agencies.
So, does this government reporting qualify as censorship? It only would with Twitter’s help. If Twitter is only removing legitimate requests for terrorism-related content, then government agencies are being treated no differently than any private citizen reporting similar content. If it’s suspending accounts or removing tweets simply because the reporting government doesn’t like what’s being said (or who’s saying it), then it’s acting as a censorious extension of the reporting government.