Twitter is beginning to filter content and locking accounts of those who use bad language.
Recently, developer Victoria Fierce decided to tweet some harsh words at the US Vice President Mike Pence. Annoyed at the recent rollback of transgender rights from federal law to state law, she wrote “F**k you. I gotta piss, and you’re putting me — an American — in danger of assault by your white supremacist brothers.” Almost immediately, she got notified by Twitter that the service had detected potentially abusive activity, and locked her account for 12 hours so that only her followers could see what she posted.
Only last year, Twitter permanently banned conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos for making fun of Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones on the platform. The response experienced by Fierce is a development from this, a shift in the company’s policy in how it deals with abuse. The move is now drawing fire from the very communities who pushed for it. “It was just one tweet,” Fierce told The Verge, “and certainly not the first time I’ve told an elected official to f**k off.” Of course, it may not have been ‘just one tweet’. Twitter themselves say that their filter isn’t triggered by a single tweet, but rather when a pattern of behavior is established.
Regardless, Fierce finds that even though a filter could help, it’s not doing its job right: “Politically, I think this sends a message that Twitter considers all forms of abuse equal,” she says. “To their systems, a white supremacist calling for shooting a person of color is just as bad as an angry Latinx renter telling their city’s rent board to f**k off.”
What Fierce doesn’t understand however, is that this is what happens when you throw away your free speech. If you begin limiting it for one cause, you can limit it for another just as easily. It’s worth noting that Twitter, much like Facebook, and other social media platforms, are private companies. As such, they are under no obligation to protect your free speech. And when users begin demanding that abusive language should be filtered, sooner or later you’ll find yourself falling victim as well.