Twitter: The alleged free speech platform

Lately we have been privy to exhaustive discussions about Twitter, who is buying it, what he plans to do with it and whether it is truly a bastion of free speech. So what is Twitter? Twitter is a kind of social network platform on the internet where users post short messages limited to around 300 characters or 140 seconds of video or audio. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a definition of twitter is “light, tremulous speech or laughter” (gibberish). The short posted messages are called tweets. If a user posts a message, it is said that that person tweeted out a message.  If you get a tweet and want to share it with others, sending it out is called a retweet.

Twitter was created in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams. It was intended to be a short messaging service (SMS) where users could discuss various issues freely - essentially a digital town square. Twitter has become a significant way of communicating with people. In 2012 there were over 100 million users generating 340 million tweets per day. A user has the option of seeing what a particular person is saying by following that person, hence a follower.

Currently the person with the most followers is President Obama, who has over 100 million followers. Whatever he tweets, the followers get the message. Because of the popularity of Twitter (fourth most visited website on the internet) tweets from important or well-known people are viewed as official statements and are often deemed influential.

President Trump (who had over 85 million followers) tweeted over 25,000 times while president, bypassing unfavorable media and going directly to the people. Even those who are not on Twitter hear about tweets through reports from national news media.

Twitter also has the capability of magnifying the number of tweets using bots. A bot is a form of spam software that spits out several tweets associated with one individual. For example if a politician tweets out a message, there may be thousands of tweets opposing the message. This sounds like huge opposition but can actually be generated by one person using bot software.

According to the Pew Research Center approximately 22 percent of the American public uses Twitter. A small number of Twitter users spit out most of the tweets. Now comes the rub: the free speech police. Twitter free speech policies called “content moderation” have been evolving in favor of ideas harbored by those running the platform. They preach tolerance but are often intolerant of different views; consequently opposing views are frequently banned.

For instance, during the past election, President Trump was banned from Twitter based on what the Twitter police determined was improper speech. Yet the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, notorious for using his Twitter accounts to incite hate (death to America, etc.), violence and outright lying, is allowed on the platform.

It is apparent that an ideology has developed among those in control of Twitter which results in banning individuals who tweet contrary to their philosophy. This has turned off many users who have left the platform because of the limitations on free speech and have gone to competitors such Parler or Gab.

Now enter the richest man in the world (Elon Musk) who has, at this time, purchased the company. Mr. Musk has been known to be politically neutral and believes in free speech, which is restricted at Twitter. He says he wants to clean up the biased policies and the fake accounts at Twitter that tend to be more influential than they really are, by making the platform more transparent.

Those in charge at Twitter have expressed concern that they may have lost control of a media platform as a result of Elon Musk’s intent of reinstating free speech. In the past, they have controlled the discussion by eliminating the presentation of alternative ideas. Good luck, Mr. Musk!


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