Meet the new boss

Oct 26 2019

Twitter’s policies are abetting government repression in India, according to a piece by Avi Asher-Schapiro and Ahmed Zidan on the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Last year Twitter obliged the government by rendering all tweets from the periodical Kashmir Narrator invisible in India. The periodical’s crime? It had written about a militant in the restive province of Kashmir. (The person who wrote the piece is in jail, and the restive province isn’t as restive as it used to be—not just because of the jailing of journalists, but because the internet has been shut down in Kashmir.) 

Twitter’s subservience shouldn’t surprise us. Given the power of governments to regulate or even ban social media sites, Twitter has a commercial interest in staying on good terms with governments. Same goes for other social media companies. I wrote a piece for Wired last year noting how unquestioningly Facebook bans any group the Trump administration labels a terrorist group—even though this administration’s approach to applying that label is, to say the least, loose.

Much has been written about how the internet, and social media in particular, can decentralize power. And this potential is real; the Egyptian revolution of 2011 probably wouldn’t have happened without Facebook. But that revolution was ultimately subverted by a military coup, so obviously the decentralizing tendency of social media isn’t determinative. There are various reasons for this, and right now India and Twitter are doing a good job of illustrating some of them.

In related news: In the Intercept, Jon Schwarz asks why the dinners Mark Zuckerberg says he has with “lots of people across the spectrum” so he can hear “lots of viewpoints” seem to include lots of people from the right (Tucker Carlson, Hugh Hewitt, Ben Shapiro, Matt Continetti, Brent Bozell) and not lots of people from the left. I don’t know the answer, but if it turns out to be actual ideological bias, my opinion of Zuckerberg will rise. I’ve seen no evidence that he does anything for reasons other than maximizing Facebook’s profit and its long term strategic prospects. So far as I can tell, his mission is to expand corporate power, and he can be counted on to bow to power—in government, in journalism, wherever—in the service of that mission.

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