Twitter's free speech era is officially over

Revue
 
The free speech wing of the free speech party has officially closed. Sinead McSweeney, Twitter's vice
 

The Interface

December 19 · Issue #50 · View online
An evening newsletter about Facebook, social networks, and democracy.

The free speech wing of the free speech party has officially closed. Sinead McSweeney, Twitter’s vice president for public policy and communications in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, said today that it’s “no longer possible to stand up for all speech.” McSweeney spoke before the UK’s Home Affairs committee alongside executives from Google and Facebook, at an event that sounds reminiscent of last month’s congressional hearings.
Emboldened by the events of the Arab Spring, Twitter has long been the most sympathetic to arguments that platforms should enable the maximum amount of speech possible. And so it was striking to hear this today from a Twitter executive, as quoted by Business Insider:
“I look back over last 5 ½ years, and the answers I would have given to some of these questions five years ago were very different. Twitter was in a place where it believed the most effective antidote to bad speech was good speech. It was very much a John Stuart Mill-style philosophy. We’ve realized the world we live in has changed. We’ve had to go on a journey with it, and we’ve realized it’s no longer possible to stand up for all speech in the hopes society will become a better place because racism will be challenged, or homophobia challenged, or extremism will be challenged. And we do have to take steps to limit the visibility of hateful symbols, to ban people from the platform who affiliate with violent groups — that’s the journey we’re on.”
McSweeney’s remarks came a day after Twitter announced new policies around enforcement, which resulted in the purging of more than a dozen accounts, including the American Nazi party. I found the whole thing comforting, at least in principle, though in practice Twitter policies are inconsistently applied.
Speaking of which, Charlie Warzel made me extremely jealous by getting his hands on internal Twitter emails showing top executives reckoning with whether to remove the verification badge from noxious white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos. (He was later banned from the platform entirely.)    
“I thought that he wasn’t qualified for verification under current guidelines — is that not true?” Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s General Counsel, wrote on the thread. “I want to make sure we are doing the right thing here and not responding to external pressure or attacks from him. We’ve already taken the PR hit, so let’s make sure we are focused on getting this right!”
It’s a cringeworthy moment. If the general counsel doesn’t know what verification means, what hope do the rest of us have? On one hand, we should expect — and encourage — platform policies to evolve around the way they are used. But Warzel’s story gives us a rare glimpse into just exactly how confused Twitter’s own employees were about fundamental aspects of their platform, right at the time that some of their worst users were learning how to weaponize it. 
It’s a chilling moment, and here’s hoping every big platform is taking lessons from it. Not least of all Twitter.

Democracy
The Republican net neutrality bill doesn't save net neutrality
Facebook and Microsoft disabled slew of North Korean cyber threats
The white nationalist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim accounts Twitter suspended.
How much news makes it into people’s Facebook feeds? Our experiment suggests not much
Elsewhere
Germany Says Facebook Abuses Market Dominance to Collect Data
What happens when Facebook doesn’t tell you a friend has died?
Mastodon makes the internet feel like home again
The People Who Read Your Airline Tweets
Launches
Facebook’s facial recognition now looks for you in photos you’re not tagged in
Facebook’s social VR Spaces is now compatible with HTC Vive
Facebook is introducing new tools to help curb harassment
Twitter launches a new enterprise API to power customer service and chatbots
Takes
Silicon Valley Is Turning Into Its Own Worst Fear
And finally ...
The Rotten Tomatoes score for "The Last Jedi" may be rigged
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? Free speech? casey@theverge.com 
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Carefully curated by Casey Newton with Revue.
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