Twitter issued a statement in January of 2018 which declared their policy-written power. The blog post clarified the ability to delete any comment they wish- be it from a head-of-state or your Aunt Sally. (3) Twitter disclosed they would not, however, delete an entire account- unlike Facebook. (1) Twitter argues, they were not issuing a threat; The company wishes to foster a healthy and safe environment, free from “trolls” “bots” and types of ‘phobic harassment. (2) The social media site posted, “Today, we use policies, human review processes, and machine learning to help us determine how Tweets are organized and presented in communal places like conversations and search.” (2) Specifically, the company plans to monitor for multiple account sign-ups under the same email.
This implementation has been twisted by our Commander and Chief, backed by the Attorney General. In 2016, electoral candidate Trump made claims that social media platforms were restricting conservative views- by “rigging” search results. (8) This stems from; the removal of Alex Jones from Facebook; claims that google “rigged” search results to limit conservative information; as well as over 50,000 Russian “bots” that posted propaganda to try to skew the 2016 presidential election. (5) Although censorship is the correct verbiage for twitter’s actions, its definition has been taken to the extreme- rather than what it means literally. Twitter is simply preventing users from offending the majority of the site’s community, by monitoring and removing harmful content. (2)
The question remaining, is what ethical codes were broken, if any? Kantianism argues for truth, that information be available to all- good or bad. Individualism’s main goal is to maximize profit within the limits of the law. Utilitarianism’s ethical framework is of overall happiness, it is a business’ responsibility to ensure the most pleasure over an elongated period of time. Virtue theory is founded in acting in such a way so as to avoid negative character traits, such as hate and dishonesty.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Twitter makes money by selling advertisement space, and advertisements are aligned with user preferences. (9) Therefore, more users generally means more revenue. Twitter’s idea to monitor posting and ensure a safe environment is in theory supposed to prevent the loss of users, and thus keep turning a profit. So in theory, the move to censor feeds is ethical in the case of individualism.
Utilitarianism would urge for more measures to be taken in order to remove such offensive content. It would even take twitter’s plans further and perhaps block Trump’s account to maximize overall happiness. As twitter is enforcing censorship now, it may be minimal but the effort is in place to maximize user happiness.
Kantianism would argue that the information should be available site-wide, no matter the content and that people should be treated as an ends in themselves, not a mere means. It should be up to the users themselves to report content as offensive. It is not the company’s responsibility to define what is acceptable or not, because not everyone will have the same standards of acceptable behavior. In this case, twitter is being unethical in the sense that the public has not had the chance to decide for themselves what may be acceptable or not.
Twitter attempted to keep within ethical boundaries to an extent. With the exception of Kantianism, the company has overall found an ethical balance in censorship. However, their implementation was weak initially, as they made very little public statements regarding their new procedures- outside of their own blog. It is important to address the media before it addresses the company! This gives the upper hand so to speak. Although twitter would have to call out the fact that their current implementations are failing, the important part is that they are fixing the problem. This is how any great company succeeds; honesty and ethics are balanced upon the shoulders of the operations.
3. Candeub, A Epstein, M. (11/7/17 ).Keep TwitterAccountable Without Censorship. Wall Street Journal
7. Timberg, C. Romm, T. Barrett, D. Fung, B.(9/5/18) Justice Department Warns Tech Companies. The Washington Post.