An interesting thread did the rounds over the weekend, looking at how Twitter takes money from Chinese propaganda outfits aiming to discredit the protesters in Hong Kong.
“Here’s the question: a bunch of young people in Hong Kong are standing up to their government, at terrific personal risk, to fight for basic human rights. Will a bunch of Twitter employees, at far less risk, stand up to their CEO and refuse to be used as a weapon against them?”
It’s a question that keeps on coming back, is it possible to run a modern, global, social media platform and avoid picking sides in political disputes?
What’s happening in Hong Kong is a clash of cultures, where Western values are meeting Chinese values in a territory transitioning from one to the other. Taking a standpoint on whether China’s news agency can pay to promote its view against the protesters is about deciding where you stand in the world, because you can’t stand everywhere.
Twitter generally accepts political ads
as long as they comply with local election laws. But when those political ads make a stand against values many in the West take as basic tenets of life, the company has to make a decision about where it stands.
“I think there should be congressional hearings on the role of Twitter in advancing a coordinated Chinese disinformation campaign. We are approaching a U.S. election year and need to know what controls and internal safeguards Twitter has, beyond ‘ask the underfed half-time CEO.’”
We’re at a point where I believe many tech companies need to have a political and moral compass from the start. It really is impossible to be everything to everyone because as we see time and time again, these companies must make ostensibly political decisions when they choose to ban certain content.
It’s fine to have a rule banning antisocial behaviour whoever commits it, but if you start to make exceptions for the President, or for a country where acting a certain way might have implications for your business later, or because the group you should really ban makes a noise about your so-called political bias, you’re making a political decision.
If we know where a company stands politically, we know what to expect from it and we won’t get disappointed when it acts a way we don’t like.