Twitter has got itself into a tangle. The social network’s decision to remove all links to the horrific footage showing the apparent beheading of the photojournalist James Foley is one that most of its users, reasonably, support.
The social network went still further, suspending or banning users who shared the footage or certain stills, following public tweets from the company’s CEO, Dick Costolo, that it would take action against such users.
It is hard to think of anyone having a good reason to view or share such barbaric footage, but Twitter’s proactive approach reverses a long record of non-intervention.
Twitter has promoted its free speech credentials aggressively since the network’s inception. The company’s former general counsel once characterised the company as “the free speech wing of the free speech party”, an approach characterised by removing content only in extreme situations – when made to by governments in accordance with local law, or through various channels designed to report harassment.
The social network’s response to the Foley footage and images is clearly a break from that response: not only did the network respond to reports complaining about posts using the material, they also seem to have proactively sought it out in other instances.
Aside from the question of whether Twitter would have reacted differently if a non-US citizen had been the victim, this is an interesting decision with significant ramifications. As I’ve argued before, the solution is for Twitter to formalise “rooms” for discussion. There is a global room – for everything – and there are rooms for People Like Me etc.