Twitter’s Partial Impartiality

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Posted: Jun 19, 2020 9:20 AM
Twitter’s Partial Impartiality

Source: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

With contributions by Charles Bowyer.

When Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified in front of Congress in 2018, he declared: “Twitter does not use political ideology to make any decisions. ... We believe strongly in being impartial, and we strive to enforce our rules impartially.” That wasn’t easy to believe then, and after, among other matters, its treatment of two Trump tweets, it’s even harder to believe now.

The first tweet that ran into trouble was one (or, more accurately, a mini-thread) in which the president alleged that adopting a mass mail-in-ballot system would lead to voter fraud:

There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there, will get one. That will be followed up with professionals telling all of these people, many of whom have never even thought of voting before, how, and for whom, to vote. This will be a Rigged Election. No way!

Twitter annotated the tweet, linking to an official Twitter page that, among other things, states that “fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud.”

In this instance, at least, Twitter was appointing itself a gatekeeper of the truth.

The second thread that ran into trouble consisted of two tweets by Trump in reaction to growing rioting in Minneapolis.

I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right. . . . These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!

Twitter put a caption over the second tweet saying it “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence,” but would be left up because “it may be in the public’s interest.”

Whatever you may think of Trump’s tweets, Twitter is playing a dangerous game. There is a large contingent of activists who believe Twitter has treated Trump too tolerantly. Left-wing ideologues routinely insist on the censorship and even banning of Trump. Until quite recently, Twitter’s leadership resisted placating them. That stance seems to be shifting.

Twitter may like to maintain that the company is acting in the public’s interest, but recent events — particularly those surrounding its recent shareholder conference — have made its underlying ideological motivation all too apparent. It is not necessary to dig up the laundry list of selective banning and censorship that conservatives have highlighted for years. Twitter’s recent shareholder conference is sufficient to demonstrate its bias.

A proposal was on the ballot for May 27th to highlight Twitter’s conspicuous exclusion of “viewpoint” and “ideology” from its written equal-employment opportunity (EEO) policy. The company’s EEO policy protects employees from being discriminated against on the basis of gender, sexuality, and race. But there is no prohibition against discrimination for holding the ‘wrong’ point of view.

The shareholder resolution, if it had passed, would have been an important step forward to putting this right. But as you can see on pages 32 and 33 of Twitter’s proxy statement, Twitter’s board of directors advised voting against the resolution, and wrote a response that, despite a considerable length, failed to explain why the resolution should not be adopted.

The National Center for Public Policy Research (NCFPP) had made specific claims alleging bias at Twitter, with sources to support them. The request was modest: They asked that Twitter issue a report detailing the “potential risks associated with omitting ‘viewpoint’ and ‘ideology’” from their EEO statement. They did not ask for Twitter to unban Alex Jones, stop shadow-banning conservatives, or institute mandatory diversity quotas for conservatives and libertarians. They just asked for a report.

The Board responded with an invocation of woke boilerplate (“At Twitter, we believe our differences make us stronger,” “We foster important conversations on our service [and] create programs that build a culture of inclusion”). They went no further than saying they do not discriminate on the basis of political affiliation (in the U.S.). But “political affiliation” and “ideology” are not necessarily synonyms. Simply saying, “We do not discriminate based on political affiliation” is an insufficient response, as political affiliation is a vague, imprecise term that Twitter hasn’t defined. If this is taken to mean political party, it still does little to calm conservative concerns, as a registered Republican could still be discriminated against because, say, he or she opposes gay marriage, for instance. If this is taken to mean they practice no viewpoint discrimination, why did they so forcefully reject a proposal that would have helped entrench those protections? In response to the NCFPP’s resolution that pointed out Twitter’s double standard on diversity, Twitter decided to simply re-affirm that they believe in “diversity” — which really means diversity of identity groups, not viewpoints. The Board’s arguments may have been weak, but they prevailed nevertheless.

The Board’s opposition to the NCFPP’s proposal was revealing. The leadership of a company looking to establish — or, depending on your point of view, reinforce — a reputation for being non-partisan ought to have welcomed an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to ideological diversity. But it did not.

And the failure to do so does not inspire much confidence in its ‘fact-checking,’ which was, in fact, merely, a suggestion to seek guidance elsewhere: “These claims are unsubstantiated, according to CNN, Washington Post and others. Experts say mail-in ballots are very rarely linked to voter fraud.”

CNN and the Washington Post are not known for being above the partisan fray.

Again, whatever one’s views about Trump’s speculative claim about California’s voting arrangements, this does not look a very rigorous ‘fact-check,’ suggesting a different motivation for it.

Similarly, to accuse Trump of “glorifying violence” for threatening to use the military while accounts that actually glorify violence are untouched does not come across as particularly evenhanded. To take one example from less than a month ago, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s account tweeted, “We will support and assist any nation or any group anywhere who opposes and fights the Zionist regime,” without any imposition of a warning by Twitter.

Twitter has had the opportunity to show that it is not another woke corporation. It doesn’t appear to be taking it.

This article originally appeared on National Review.