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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Tweets and twits

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, February 12, 2016 07:59 am

Twitter seems to have stalled, with its number of followers flat and its stock tumbling. And it's just made a move that many are saying will accelerate the decline. Apparently some people are leaving the platform in protest over the creation of the new Twitter Trust & Safety Council because they say the mission being undertaken here is censorship. It can't really be censorship, since technically that refers to government activity, and Twitter is a private company. But since that's the term being used, and it does convey the idea of people having their Tweets blocked or getting outright banned, let's go with that. Our newspaper has been accused of censorship because we didn't print somebody's letter, so what the hell.

Here's what Twitter said in announcing the TT&SC:

To ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely on Twitter, we must provide more tools and policies. With hundreds of millions of Tweets sent per day, the volume of content on Twitter is massive, which makes it extraordinarily complex to strike the right balance between fighting abuse and speaking truth to power. It requires a multi-layered approach where each of our 320 million users has a part to play, as do the community of experts working for safety and free expression.

That’s why we are announcing the formation of the Twitter Trust & Safety Council, a new and foundational part of our strategy to ensure that people feel safe expressing themselves on Twitter.

And how will that safe environment be created, exactly?

Twitter empowers every voice to shape the world. But you can’t do that unless you feel safe and confident enough to express yourself freely and connect with the world around you. To help give your voice more power, Twitter does not tolerate behavior intended to harass, intimidate, or use fear to silence another user’s voice.

Working together, we will ensure Twitter is a platform where anyone, anywhere can express themselves safely and confidently.

But "behavior intended to harass, intimidate or use fear" isn't very precise, and Twitter doesn't provide any specific definitions of prohibited speech. As Taylor Millard says, some clarification would be nice:

If it’s actual threats of violence (like Dana Loesch has received), then it makes sense to ban the users (and contact the authorities). But if it’s simply calling someone a “jerk”, or using swear words to describe someone, is that really worth removing a user from Twitter? Doesn’t the “block” or “report spam” button work well enough? It just seems odd for Twitter to give a broad definition of “harassment” unless they’re just pandering to the chronically offended.

I think Twitter is headed in the wrong direction with this move, but I don't want to imply that I'm against publications, digital or otherwise, setting standards for the material they will accept and pass along to readers. Every publication (at least every one run by sane people) has such guidelines. Our "letters to the editor" policy is that we will not publish letters that are libelous, offensive or in bad taste. Now, "libelous" is a somewhat objective judgment, because there are legal standards against which to measure the material. But "offensive" and "bad taste" are pretty much subjective calls. I might consider something over the line that the next editor would decide makes the cut. So if Twitter wants to exercise judgment instead of considering itself a common carrier (like the telephone company, which cares not a whit about the content of our phones calls), then I can't very well fault it for making subjective judgments I might disagree with.

But those judgments have to be unleashed across the board, applied equally to everybody, and the suspicion, especially among those of us on the right, is that this will not be the case. The very concept pushed by the TT&SC — making "people feel safe" expressing themselves" by "creating a platform" where "anyone, anywhere can express themselves safely and confidently — is straight out of the leftist, social justice warrior "don't say anything I don't want to hear" guidebook. These are the same people who call for "safe places" on college campuses. What it all boils down to is "You are saying something that disagrees with what I believe, so JUST SHUT UP." Millard again:

It’s censorship, disguised as keeping people “safe”. People would be up in arms if the U.S. government did this, so why aren’t more people angry about it outside of conservatives and libertarians? Is it because those on the Left don’t expect to be censored or because they tacitly agree with it?

I suggest those of us who use or follow Twitter keep an eye on how this develops. If it indeed turns out to be just pandering the the SJW crowd, there are plenty of other platforms out there for getting our opinions out.

ELSEWHERE IN THE NEWS

"The more things change, the more they stay the same" department. Remember all those stories about families that experimented with giving up television for a while so they could rediscover each other? Now, we have, "How I quit my smartphone addiction and really started living." Don't know what's coming along tomorrow, but we'll get addicted and try to discover if we can live without it.

I guess everything gets super sized these days: The pope is unleashing "super confessors" to tackle special sins. These "reserved sins" used to be considered by a secret tribunal in the Vatican before being sent to the pope, would personally determine an appropriate penance.  Now, 1,142 priests and monks will go out into flocks and act in the pope's name. Road trip!

I do most of my shopping on Amazon these days, so I guess I'm part of the problem: Sears' total collapse "is a matter of when, not if." So long to the brick & mortar era.

Meryl Streep defended the all-white panel at the Berlin Film Festival by observing "We're all from Africa originally ... we're all Africans, really." Yeah, well, some people's Africanness, it might be pointed out, affects them a little more.

I know I get a little cynical about politics sometimes, but I don't think I'll ever be as far gone as uber libertarian Judge Andrew Napolitano, who says there is not "a dime's worth of difference" between Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz.

What if all these candidates — in differing degrees — reject the concept of limited government? What if they all want to bribe the rich with bailouts and the middle class with tax breaks and the poor with welfare? What if these candidates and their supporters and their attitudes about the role of government in our lives have reduced government at this sad time in our history to a game whereby everyone tries to live at someone else’s expense?

What if none of the candidates recognizes that government is an artificial creation based on force and ought to be exercised minimally? What if none of them understands that prosperity comes from the free choices of investors, workers and consumers, and not from the decisions of the federal government’s central planners?

What if none of these current candidates acknowledges that individuals are sovereign, our rights are inalienable, our property belongs to us, our souls are immortal, and that the government works for us — not the other way around?

What ever happened to the right to be left alone? Where is a candidate who will defend it? What are lovers of liberty to do?

It might be a lost cause (the judge would probably say so) but I still have to consider my liberty salvageable and choose the candidate who seems to cherish it as much as I do. Alas, there might not be one in the final two this year.

Those aforementioned "safe places" on campus? Get a load of this: "The University of Texas at Austin police department issued a disorderly conduct citation to an outdoor preacher on Tuesday after students complained that his message had offended them. The preacher, who was standing just off campus, recorded his interaction with several university police officers, who explained that it was illegal for him to offend the students."

Finally,  just how bad is it on college campuses these days? College freshmen haven't been this liberal since the Vietnam War. Yeah, I was there, so I can tell you the answer to the question is "just awful."

WORD OF THE DAY

calumniate (kuh-LUHM-knee-ate). v. — to make false and malicious statements about; slander, as in: "You may criticize people in a letter to the editor, even vilify them, but you may not calumniate them."

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