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posted by martyb on Saturday October 31 2015, @09:51PM   Printer-friendly
from the delayed-dissemination-deemed-despicable dept.

Over the past year as the communications service Twitter has rolled out new features with the stated goal of stopping "abusive tweets", critics have expressed concerns that this technology may be used for political censorship. These concerns received broader attention last week when Cryptome published a report by Paul Dietrich alleging that Twitter had hidden information about leaked NSA papers from American users.

As alleged by Dietrich, Twitter will hide information from users for the critical period of the first 24 hours, when users are most likely to spread the information, before allowing the information to be seen again. The disappearance and reappearance of the information resembles a software glitch. Dietrich describes this mechanism as "Censorship that doesn't look like censorship... Subtle, deniable, and quite ruthless."

Concerns about the system were first raised in April by Twitter user Daddy Warpig who reported that Twitter was hiding all posts by certain users of the conservative #TCOT and liberal #Gamergate hashtags along with users affiliated with the Sad Puppies campaign of science-fiction authors protesting against a perceived bias in the Hugo Awards.

Twitter introduced a revised system in May, stating that it would hide only "tweets sent directly to an individual which are from a recently registered account and use language similar to previously flagged messages." Lizzy Finnegan, a writer for the Escapist, discovered that Twitter was hiding messages from established users who had previously used the #Gamergate hashtag but was not blocking new accounts created to test the system by sending the exact same messages.

[More after the break.]

This is not the only time that Twitter has been accused of censorship. A report headlined by Rima Tamash of Rice University found that Twitter had censored 266,407 tweets of 7,642 Turkish users, with censored topics including politicians and the Aydin Dogan media group. In mid-July, Twitter deleted the accounts of several Japanese artists in response to a complaint from the Russian government that their works were pornographic. Earlier this year, Twitter suspended conservative commentator Janet Bloomfield and manmade-global-warming denier Steven Goddard for no apparent reason other than their beliefs.

Twitter has also been accused of targeting citizen journalists for reporting news that offends powerful interests. Vicki Pate of Re-Newsit was banned from Twitter after posting a satirical cartoon of attorney Benjamin Crump. Pate had written about the financial dealings of Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King, a business partner in the Upfront Foundation with Twitter director of innovation Claire Diaz-Oritz. RadioNewz was suspended from Twitter after reporting on Pate's suspension. In May, Twitter banned Chuck C. Johnson of GotNews for soliting donations "to taking out" Black Lives Matter protester Deray McKesson with a future expose.

Twitter banned minor Youtube celebrity LeoPirate shortly after LeoPirate reported on leaked internet chat logs revealing the past pedophilic tendencies of Nicholas Nyberg, the administrator of the video game music website FFShrine who currently writes for feminist websites under the pen name Sarah Butts. Twitter also banned the account of Encyclopedia Dramatica for reporting on the subject and briefly suspended former Washington Times assistant editor Robert Stacy McCain for linking to one of his own articles about it.

As previously mentioned on Soylent News, late last year Twitter suspended several accounts associated with opposition to the Atheism+ movement and the Gamergate scandal.


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  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31 2015, @10:32PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31 2015, @10:32PM (#257013)

    Yes, the government is certainly not the only one who can censor information. It's like some people think that censorship is always necessarily bad or not allowed, so private companies must be incapable of it, but that is a misunderstanding of what qualifies as censorship.

    Censorship can be immoral and legal at the same time. Too many people misinterpret criticisms of some kind of censorship as saying "The website owner isn't legally allowed to do this.", but that is not what is being said.

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  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31 2015, @10:45PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31 2015, @10:45PM (#257018)

    It's like some people think that censorship is always necessarily bad or not allowed, so private companies must be incapable of it

    I think it's more that people often conflate 'free speech' and 'the First Amendment to the United States Constitution', which states that the gov't isn't allowed to "[abridge] the freedom of speech", i.e. practice censorship.

    The fact that there are laws against goverment censorship, but that there are no laws against private censorship, doesn't make it any less censorship.

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by K_benzoate on Saturday October 31 2015, @11:02PM

    by K_benzoate (5036) on Saturday October 31 2015, @11:02PM (#257023)

    You also need to understand that for a small but vocal minority freedom of speech has been seriously deemphasized in favor of emotional comfort (safe spaces) and inclusivity--which is a stalking horse for bullying anyone deemed to be tainted by "privilege". They are very much in favor of drawing a line around freedom of speech to exclude anything they consider "hate speech" or "problematic speech". Their definition for these categories is so broad, and so fluid, that granting them control over this vetting process amounts to handing them carte blanch to veto anyone's human rights on a whim.

    This isn't liberalism, it's authoritarianism, and real liberals who want to preserve liberal values like Freedom of Expression had better stand up and object to this behavior. These horribly illiberal policies simply have to lose. The edifice of human rights is built on the foundation of Free Expression and if we lose that foundation we are doomed. There's nothing that can't be taken away from you once you've lost the freedom to object. This is serious stuff, and it matters even if the specific skirmishes appear to be happening in rather trivial cultural spaces. Who cares about video games and sci-fi books? You should, because one day they'll come for something YOU do care about [dancerscode.com] and your ranks of allies will be that much thinner for your inaction.

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    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by frojack on Sunday November 01 2015, @07:14AM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Sunday November 01 2015, @07:14AM (#257114) Journal

      They are very much in favor of drawing a line around freedom of speech to exclude anything they consider "hate speech" or "problematic speech".

      The whole concept of hate speech is rather more than problematic. To the extent some speech is outlawed, instead of telling people to just grow a skin, it is an obvious end-run around the constitution. Its an imported idea, probably from Europe (where we are told everything is done better) where they have no such thing as a first amendment, and no strong belief in free speech.

      But still, that assumes we talking about government action.

      There is really no expectation for twitter to never censor, or to let their platform become some a huge flame-fest, and have the whole platform banned in every third country.

      Still One wonders how they choose which tweets to delay, which accounts to close, and who to ban.
      Do they have a large number of "watchers" guarding subject areas, or are they using software filters? Who gets to set those filters?
      Are there agreements in place to allow the Russian or Greek governments to specify filters? Does every government get a say?

      But the very first question that comes to my mind is just how VAPID does one have to be to build a Soylent News submission like this one?

      It boggles the mind that someone would spend enough time to mine this subject for all those examples of censorship. Worse yet is the possibility that the AC who submitted this post actually paid so much attention to twitter that he or she was aware of all those examples without having to do much research. The mere thought sends shivers up my spine

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    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2015, @04:51AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04 2015, @04:51AM (#258281)

      You also need to understand that for a small but vocal minority freedom of speech has been seriously deemphasized in favor of emotional comfort (safe spaces) and inclusivity--which is a stalking horse for bullying anyone deemed to be tainted by "privilege".

      Oh? Do you have some proof of that, or are you referring to the always-referenced, mythical, non-existent-outside-of-persecution-complex-riddled-delusions boogymen known as "SJW"s and "PC"?

  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 01 2015, @06:23AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 01 2015, @06:23AM (#257107)

    I can tell you that should I reveal my concept of religion in the church I used to attend, I *will* be censored.

    The staff will signal the musicians to start up should I speak anything not in line with what we've been told to say. I am no match for kilowatts of amplifiers, and they know that. Its rude for me to "raise my voice" but its quite OK to twist a knob to deafening levels if you have a noise making instrument in hand.

    They know good and well we are subordinate to the machine. One can be unspeakably rude to anyone as long as you have a piece of technology with you. Its the *phone!* gotta go!. The computer won't clear you. Whatever. We have been trained since birth that machines take priority over us. Preachers know this well. So they have lots of powerful amplifiers to make sure the discussion is one way and one way only.

    It's their church. Not mine. So I can't say much more about it than I have said here.