Are social media censorships going too far?

11 January, 2021 | Priyanka Sharma

Twitter blocked Donald Trump's account after US Capitol violence. The move has sparked a debate on social media censorship and freedom of speech and expression.

The United States of America is burning after a few Trump supporters did an attack on Capitol Hill amidst the accusation of the alleged voter fraud. Citing the reason of controlling the violence, the micro-blogging platform and other social media platforms temporarily blocked the accounts of the US President Donald Trump.

But on the next day, 8th January 2021, Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account after ‘close review of recent tweets’ and ‘the context around them’. It also added a lame explanation of ‘how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter.’ In a long assessment, Twitter interpreted his tweets declaring not his absence from attending Biden’s inauguration and appeal to his voters in its own way. Not only this, it also deleted the several tweets done from the official account @POTUS.

Instagram and Facebook along with Snapchat have also blocked the access to Trump’s account. Frustrated, Trump joined Parler app, which was subsequently delisted from Google Play Store, because, as Google claimed, the application’s ‘moderation policies enforcement’ was creating a ‘public safety threat’. Apple also gave it a soft-threat of 24-hours and the action would be followed.

Now, this episode poses a series of serious questions: How can Big Tech interpret the tweets in their own way? Should the unelected entrepreneurs control the whole narrative? Where to draw a line between the incitement and freedom of expression?

Suppose, for a hypothesis, if someone has tweeted something offensive against one famous politician which was followed by riots and organized protests in that city. The poster has not violated any existing law of land or any content policies but still the violence is provoked. Technically, from Twitter’s lens, these tweets are responsible for this violence. What would Twitter do then? Will Twitter ban her account just because her tweets ‘are being received and interpreted’ in another way?

The companies are not even consistent in implementing its existing policies ubiquitously. Recently, some have affirmed their commitment to free-and-fair elections. Amidst the US Presidential elections in 2020, Twitter labeled the tweets, mainly of the Republican candidate Donald Trump, alleging voter-fraud during the process. It did a ‘fact-check’ on them and limited their reach, thanks to the algorithms.

But, is the same process is followed in any other country, say, India? Around the same time, Bihar elections were held in India, using the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). It is to be noted here that the Election Commission of India had already invited political parties to demonstrate the hacking of the EVMs in year 2018 but none could do so.

The candidates and parties, who lost the Bihar elections, started questioning the reliability of the EVMs along with the usual rhetoric of EVM hacking. On Twitter vociferous were the politicians Pushpam Priya Choudhary and Udit Raj; their tweets are still lying there free from any labels. Facebook has not even labelled them. Does that mean alleging voter fraud is valid in India but invalid in the USA? Will Twitter be able to control and ‘fact-check’ all the information? And what would be the source for verifying it and what is the guarantee that the reference is not biased?

Simply, the platform can’t do that in any way. It should be left to its users to derive conclusions by cross-checking and verifying the facts. This issue of censorship is being discussed here and there, because the account of the US President is suspended, but, there are many unlucky users whose accounts were blocked or suspended without any noise. In some cases, the decisions were taken such absurdly and arbitrarily that they would be reverted within a day or two. It should not be the case that the social media platforms should be without any moderation or regulation on content but it should be limited only to the domain of complying the land of law, direct call of violence, threat of physical damage, targeted harassment etc.

Author is an electrical engineer, analyst and columnist. He is active on Twitter as @MehHarshil.