Twitter’s politically driven double standards are now all too obvious. Just last week, Iran launched a Twitter campaign calling for the destruction of Israel. Granted, Ayatollah AliKhamenei didn’t use a rhyme to make his point, but maybe he thought “uprooted and destroyed” was clear enough. Even still, the message remains easy to find — and unlabeled by Twitter’s council of guardians.
One doesn’t need to look abroad for other blatant double standards. Earlier this week, comedian Kathy Griffin tweeted that someone should inject Trump with a syringe of air, which could kill him. Twitter temporarily suspended her account, but she’s already back and active. And while her original tweet has been removed, she doubled down by retweeting media coverage of her call for someone to “stab @realDonaldTrump with syringe full of air,” adding “I SURE DID, [expletive].” How is that acceptable?
Colin Kaepernick — remember him? — is in the act, too. His current pinned tweet reads: “When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction. The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on deaf ears, because your violence has brought this resistance. We have the right to fight back!” Just in case that’s too subtle for you, he also retweeted a picture of the Minneapolis Third Precinct police house on fire. The message is again clear: Advocating rioting is not “glorification of violence,” while enforcing the law is.
One can only imagine how Twitter would have handled prior famous events. President Lyndon B. Johnson had to call out the National Guard to suppress racial rioting in Detroit in 1967. His statement announcing this clearly stated that he would “do whatever is necessary” to stop the rioting. Today that might have been announced on Twitter. Is that a “glorification of violence”?
In 1904, Moroccan bandits led by a man named Ahmed Raisuli kidnapped an American, Jon Perdicaris. The secretary of state sent a telegram to the Moroccan government saying “we want Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead.” Had that been tweeted today, would it be a forceful, colorful response or a glorification of violence?
It doesn’t help Twitter’s case that its director of site integrity has a history of anti-Trump and anti-Republican tweets himself. He may not have the final authority to order the fact-checks and tweet-blocking that have transformed the debate about social media censorship. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is the increasingly clear fact that Twitter’s executives are pro-progressive and anti-Trump, and when they deviate from a policy of content neutrality, they seem to do so in one direction.
To be clear, I do not think Twitter should be taking down all of these other tweets. I believe in freedom of speech, and freedom of speech unfortunately often includes calls for generalized violence and gross exaggeration. Trying to police those would be impossible and undesirable in a genuine democracy.
If Twitter chooses, however, to disregard this advice and tries to engage in selective commentary on, or the blocking or banning of, political speech, then it should expect the aggrieved to fight back. It, and other social media companies that follow suit, should expect those people to abandon their platforms for competitors that offer a genuinely free platform. And, if none exist, they should expect public regulation to ensure that no one is excluded from the public square. And they would deserve it when it comes.
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