Twitter tries to stop people calling for damage to 5G infrastructure

In the latest episode of social media censorship whack-a-mole, Twitter is going to remove any tweets that might incite people to do silly things.

Perhaps drawing on the ‘shouting fire in a crowded theatre’ justification for censorship, Twitter is worried its platform could be used to spread panic among the populace through the dissemination of incendiary material. On the other hand, it could be responding to pressure from the US state, which seems convinced the Chinese are using social media to stir things up.

Either way, Twitter has added another clause to its already Byzantine list of things people aren’t allowed to say. In the section headed ‘protecting the public conversation’ (from what? On behalf of who?), the recent amendment is headed ‘Broadening our guidance on unverified claims’. Here it is summarised, of course, in a tweet.

Examples of the kinds of things that Twitter had deemed no longer cool are: “The National Guard just announced that no more shipments of food will be arriving for two months — run to the grocery store ASAP and buy everything” or “5G causes coronavirus — go destroy the cell towers in your neighborhood!” What is less clear is whether those same sentiments, but without the specific calls to action, are still allowed. That will probably be covered in the next round.

While they’re thinking about that, the Twitter censors should also decide whether all calls to action are bad. While urging people to panic-buy is hardly the most harmful thing you could urge them to do, some calls to action may be actively benign, or at least ambiguous. Take the tweet below, which concerns the word ‘liberate’.

Where it gets really interesting is when you consider the tweet wasn’t so much about semantics as whether these new rules apply to everyone. You see, US President Trump recently sent the tweet below, as well as a couple of others concerning Michigan and Minnesota, which have been interpreted as a call for the citizens of those states to resist some of the restrictions that have been imposed on them as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

For those of you unfamiliar with the US Constitution, the 2nd Amendment reads as follows: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” What, exactly, Trump was calling for with these tweets remains unclear, but indirect references to militia and bearing arms seem like the sort of thing these new Twitter rules would censor if they had been tweeted by a regular punter.

The longer the coronavirus lockdowns continue, the more people will grow restive and express their frustration over social media. Stopping people publishing clear and direct incitements to criminal activity, such as destroying telecoms infrastructure, is one thing. But Twitter is going to struggle to censor every unverified claim or statements that could lead to public unrest.

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