Damian Reilly

    Does Twitter believe in free speech?

    Does Twitter believe in free speech?
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    Would Donald Trump still be president if Twitter and Facebook had not prevented people from sharing the now-infamous New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop?

    It’s a question that can legitimately be revisited thanks to covertly recorded videos released last week by conservative activist media organisation Project Veritas. The videos appear to show senior Twitter employees admitting political bias and the suppression of right-wing views.

    Back in October 2020, the social media companies said the decision to block the laptop story – which seemed to expose Biden Jnr using his father’s name for nefarious financial gain – was taken in good faith, on the basis that the computer’s files might have been falsified.

    Then Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told a congressional hearing that the company’s decision-making processes had simply misfired. ‘It was literally just a process error… We don’t have a censoring department’, he said.

    But how to square that statement with film of Twitter senior engineer Siru Murugesan released last Monday in which he appears quite openly to admit to what he and his colleagues (‘we’re all commie as fuck’) like to get up to? ‘Twitter does not believe in free speech,’ he says, before later stating: ‘We’re actually censoring the right and not the left.’

    Another video features Twitter lead client partner Alex Martinez. In the footage, we see Martinez rolling his eyes and explaining how he and his colleagues at Twitter view their work as greater than the mere facilitation of free expression, stating instead that they believe they are doing ‘something that’s good for the planet, and not just to give people free speech’. He says: ‘people don’t know how to make a rational decision if you don’t put out correct things that are supposed to be out in the public,’ adding later, ‘if that means a level of censorship to make it correct… I guess, like, it just kind of goes into the idea of what is correct?’

    For years, people on the right have suspected Twitter of an ideological bias against their views, and speculated that their famously secret algorithm promotes progressive opinions at the expense of their own.

    It’s possible, of course, that the videos are distortions of the truth – exaggerations of reality made by staff who thought they were speaking in private, or cleverly edited to make what is being said appears worse than it actually is. But when one considers several of the bans the platform has issued, it’s hard to argue with the idea that Twitter may be biased against the right.

    The highest profile example is, of course, the great antichrist of the left himself, former president Trump, but you don’t have to search too hard to discover other accounts banned seemingly for the crime of merely failing to toe a progressive line.

    Recent examples include Trump’s chief adviser Steve Bannon, former US National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn, US Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, as well as an account that tracked Nancy Pelosi’s stock trading activities and the satirical website Babylon Bee (the ban which reportedly prompted Elon Musk to state for the first time he ‘might need to buy Twitter’).

    Ever since Dorsey declared in 2018 that ‘we’re committing Twitter to help increase the collective health, openness and civility of public conversation,’ genuine worries have been voiced – not least by Musk – about who exactly decides what passes for healthy or civil conversation. Now, thanks to Project Veritas, it seems we finally have an answer – one that exceeds the worst fears of conservatives, but also anyone who believes in the sanctity of free speech.

    ‘It’s true, there is bias’, Murugesan says in his unknowing piece to camera. ‘Twitter wants to censor bullying and harassment, and the idea of free speech is that you can bully and harass people. And Twitter does not believe in this value as a platform… for example, if you bully a transgender [person], the right thinks it’s OK, the left does not.’

    He also describes a working culture within the company that is unashamedly, and by the sound of it near-exclusively, far left. ‘We weren’t really operating like capitalists, more like very socialist,’ he says. ‘I started working for Twitter and became left,’ adding later, ‘I think it’s just, like, the environment, like you’re there and you become, like, this commie. They call it Commie-fornia.’

    The air of secrecy the company cultivates around itself does not help matters in the eyes of its critics. It is very difficult, for example, to obtain the phone number of Twitter’s headquarters in London, or to discover who does what within the business, much less their contact details. Until now, this secrecy has just felt like an unwillingness to be directly accountable to the millions of people who use the site, but perhaps there is also another, more worrying, rationale.

    We will, of course, never know what might have turned out differently had Twitter not prevented the sharing of the Biden laptop story – or indeed what might have happened had it not censored specific accounts on the basis of political opinions.

    However, if the censoring of the laptop story was deliberately political – which the films of Murugesan and Martinez certainly suggest is a very distinct possibility – then this looks like a serious act of information suppression.