Matt Lauer, aka Mr. Softee (when interviewing people with whom he sympathizes), tried to act like a tough guy in his Friday interview with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. You're not fooling us, Matt.
After observing that he had "an enormous outpouring of questions about censorship" after he asked his Twitter followers what they would like to see discussed, Lauer "cleverly" asked Dorsey: "Does Twitter censor the content of its users? Does it hide what it would consider inflammatory comments, whether they be social or political?" Dorsey replied in a slightly rushed manner which seemed rehearsed: "Absolutely not. Twitter's always been about controls. People can follow whoever they want, and it's our job to ensure that they see the most important things and the things that matter to them." Lauer didn't follow up on that seemingly coached, specific-in-appearance but vague-on-substance response. Instead, he redirected the conversation towards tweets that are "dangerous."
Lauer's questions seemed to betray a desire to stop people from tweeting unpleasant things, as if "anger" and "hate" really aren't forms of speech protected by the First Amendment, but are instead emotions which shouldn't ever be expressed (with people whose political outlooks are similar to his, I suppose, deciding what is and isn't "anger" and "hate").
Here's the five-minute video that appeared on Friday morning's broadcast:
Selected transcript excerpts (bolds are mine):
(0:53 to 1:06)
MATT LAUER: It's grown up. Has it grown up to be a great kid or at times can it be a bratty kid?
JACK DORSEY: It's grown up to be a great kid. But it really reflects what's happening right now and what people want to talk about with it.
(2:05 to 4:01)
LAUER: You've seen the headlines, Jack, that say the end of Twitter is near. How true is it? On the 15th anniversary will you be here talking about Twitter?
DORSEY: Absolutely. We'll be here on the 20th. We'll be here on the 30th. It's a fundamental service, and, um, we have a lot of heart in the company. We have a lot of purpose. We understand what we are and what we stand for, and we just see this amazing usage globally.
LAUER: I asked you at times has it become a bratty kid. There are a certain percentage of people on Twitter who seem, to me (puts hand on heart for emphasis), to use the platform simply to express anger and to hurt people and insult people. Does it disappoint you?
DORSEY: It's disappointing, I mean, but it's reflective of the world. We see as much optimism and positivity as we see negativity, and the most important thing is that we're empowering dialog, we're empowering conversation, so that people can work out the issues.
LAUER: I sent a tweet out yesterday telling my followers, my measly number of followers that you were going to be on and asking what question they would like you asked. There was an enormous outpouring of questions about censorship. So let me ask you point blank: Does Twitter censor the content of its users? Does it hide what it would consider inflammatory comments, whether they be social or political?
DORSEY: Absolutely not. Twitter's always been about controls. People can follow whoever they want, and it's our job to ensure that they see the most important things and the things that matter to them.
LAUER: So anybody can say anything on Twitter? The company does not go in there and take certain things out that can be dangerous?
DORSEY: Well, there's certainly tweets that promote violence, which is against our terms or service, and people have controls to block, and people have controls to mute —
LAUER: But what about the company —
DORSEY: Not the company.
LAUER: — who decides the difference between criticism and hate?
DORSEY: These are, these are the individuals. So you can follow who you want, and if it's something you want to see you continue to follow it.
To be clear, Twitter, as a private company, has the perogative to decide what it will and won't allow to be posted, and who will and won't be allowed to post. What it shouldn't have, and what it is thus far getting away with, is pretending that it doesn't engage in censorship, while engaging in censorship with an internal double standard. The "we don't censor content" defense may be technically true (i.e., "we don't change anyone's individual tweets"), but the company's practices of de-verifying, shadow banning or shutting down accounts accomplishes the same objective. The company and Dorsey are sliding by because protectors in the press like Lauer and the AFP wire service, which did an extensive writeup on the company's 10th anniversary without even once bringing up the issue of censorship, won't go after them with specific examples when they have the chance.
Dorsey acts as if there is no one inside Twitter who is deciding whether individual users can be "de-verified" or banned for reasons other than specific violent threats. That's simply not true.
Dorsey acts as if "individuals" who don't like other posters who allegedly are too "angry," or who "hate," or who are "insulting," only have the recourse of unfollowing them, and don't have the ability to at least temporarily shut down account holders they don't like. That's also not true.
Milo Yiannopoulos elaborated on these two points in a Saturday post at Breitbart.
Yiannopoulos "was responsible for early news coverage of the Gamergate controversy, criticizing what he saw as the politicization of video game culture by 'an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct American tech bloggers.'" The so-called "Social Justice Warriors" (SJWs), who are often quite violent, hate (and that is the right word) his guts. Events and forums in which Yiannopoulos has participated have been interrupted by bomb threats.
Yiannopoulos minced no words in his critique of Dorsey and Twitter (bolds are mine; links are in original):
Jack Dorsey: You’re A Liar. Censorship Is Rampant On Twitter
... Since Dorsey returned to the company that he considers his “first born son,” the site has transformed from the public’s megaphone into the public’s muzzle. He’s calmly drowning free speech in the bathtub while adding unwanted features like algorithmic timelines and sponsored tweets.
Dorsey, who once was fired from his role as Twitter’s chief executive for an obsession with hot yoga and shirt-making, noted that Twitter only censors speech that “promotes violence.” Of course, this fails to explain my own unverification, Twitter’s rampant shadow-banning, and the suspension of Adam Baldwin over innocuous tweets that were interpreted as insults by easily-offended snowflakes. It seems Dorsey weaves fibs and half-truths as enthusiastically as he weaves straight-cut hemp outerwear.
Verified Twitter accounts are given to significant individuals (like me) who are likely to be impersonated on the platform. I’m probably the most impersonated person on the internet who isn’t Beyoncé. The blue check society is a club to which I once belonged, but since Twitter has revealed its willingness to censor and “shawdow-ban,” it’s a club I’m a lot less interested in rejoining.
... If Twitter really isn’t interested in ideological censorship, as Dorsey claims, then they should launch an immediate crackdown on employees who are. They should start with Michael Margolis, the man who allegedly asked his bosses at Twitter to unverify me and was pictured with feminist games critic Anita Sarkeesian just a few weeks later, donning his best in Sarkeesian apparel.
Does Twitter believe his political sympathies had nothing to do with his determination to target my account?
... Twitter might not have had to go the censorious route if it properly managed and staffed its in-house anti-abuse team like the grown-up social networks do, instead of farming it out to feminist groups like “Women, Action and Media” and the laughably ideological “Trust and Safety” council.
Twitter desperately needs to improve its user experience to revive flagging numbers, but it won’t invest in basic necessities like employing enough staff with time to deal with contextual issues of speech.
... It hasn’t just been me who has been on the receiving end of Twitter’s censoring spree. Hollywood actor Adam Baldwin called for Jack’s resignation from his chief executive post after conservative blogger Robert Stacy McCain was suspended from the platform without reason.
... I’m not so sure why Jack Dorsey refuses to understand that Twitter’s demise is inevitable if they don’t allow society’s most significant, compelling and attractive individuals — like me! — to use the platform to freely express themselves.
Twitter acts as if it's following its Mission Statement: "To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers."
It clearly is not, but the press doesn't seem to mind. Given that Twitter's targets for censorship are overwhelmingly center-right, it's not difficult to see why that's the case.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.