Twitter continued to crackdown on dissenting political views this week with the permanent suspension of columnist and commentator Paul Sperry. The suspension came down after Sperry allegedly tweeted about the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago. Sperry said that Twitter gave “No warning, no explanation, reason given.” That is a signature for the company, which has little transparency or ability to challenge such private censorship.
Twitter has a long and documented history of suspending those with dissenting political, social, or scientific views, particularly before major elections. Sperry says that he tweeted the following:
Funny, don’t remember the FBI raiding Chappaqua or Whitehaven to find the 33,000 potential classified documents Hillary Clinton deleted. And she was just a former secretary of state, not a former president.
DEVELOPING: Investigators reportedly met back in June w Trump & his lawyers in Mar-a-Lago storage rm to survey docs & things seemed copasetic but then FBI raids weeks later. Speculation on Hill FBI had PERSONAL stake & searching for classified docs related to its #Spygate scandal.
Sperry went on to note that “the current deputy general counsel at Twitter is also the former general counsel at FBI HQ under Comey. His name as you may know is James Baker, and he was the top attorney who reviewed the fraudulent anti-Trump FISA wiretap warrants for probable cause.”
Obviously, all of those points can be — and have been contested — by others. However, that is the point. Social media should be a place for the exchange of viewpoints as part of our national dialogue on controversies like the Mar-a-Lago raid. Twitter, however, has long dispensed with any pretense of neutrality in limiting such discussion to fit its own corporate agenda.
This is precisely why the takeover of Elon Musk is so important for free speech. The company seemingly wrote off free speech years ago. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal was asked how Twitter would balance its efforts to combat misinformation with wanting to “protect free speech as a core value” and to respect the First Amendment. He responded dismissively that the company is “not to be bound by the First Amendment” and will regulate content as “reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation.” Agrawal said the company would “focus less on thinking about free speech” because “speech is easy on the internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard.”
Musk could rectify such abuses by adopting a First Amendment approach advocated in earlier columns. That includes breaking down the extensive censorship bureaucracy at Twitter, starting at the top. That move is already likely as evident in the tearful remarks of Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, policy and trust, to her staff this week. Gadde, like Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, is notorious in the free speech community for her record of censorship, including her role in banning Donald Trump as well as the New York Post story on the Hunter Biden laptop. Taking over as CEO and immediately removing such figures will have a clear impact. However, new measures should also include publishing the algorithms and finally achieving transparency in the decision-making at Twitter over content. This should also include a full accounting of any means used in the past to control online discussions, including throttling or shadow banning.
Twitter can adopt a general free speech platform model while allowing individuals to apply specific filters to block racist terms or profane language. Free speech includes the right to readers to choose what they read. The key is that the decision can be left to readers rather than imposed by the company. Just as you can walk away from speakers in the town square, you can choose what you read. You can also choose to read more broadly. Twitter can leave such decisions in the hands of the consumer.
As we approach the critical midterm election, Twitter’s censorship cadre appears to be ramping up controls on what views can be expressed or read. Agrawal’s pledge to limit discussion to “healthy” viewpoints continues to manifest itself in Twitter’s burgeoning censorship system.