Hey, world, welcome your new supreme judge on what is proper to say (and write) and what is not: Parag Agrawal.
Agrawal, Twitter’s chief technology officer since October 2018, is set to replace co-founder Jack Dorsey as the company’s chief executive officer.
Dorsey’s censorship (that included banning sitting U.S. President from using the social media platform) was relatively benign compared to the new CEO’s philosophy.
Agrawal is on record as saying (see MIT Technology Review) that Twitter’s censorship focuses mainly on what he described as potential for harm.
Here’s what he said, verbatim: “So, we focused way less on what’s true and what’s false. We focus way more on potential for harm as a result of certain content being amplified on the platform without appropriate context.”
To make sure everybody understood what he had in mind, Agrawal elaborated: “Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our moves are reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation. The kinds of things that we do about this is, focus less on thinking about free speech, but thinking about how the times have changed.”
Three cheers for the intrepid censor!
Agrawal, as a former chief of Twitter’s technology, has been behind what the platform calls its role in recommending content.
You know, those imbecilic tabs the company adds to posts it disagrees with: they are supposed to work as gentle warnings: hey, user, stop saying this, or we’ll cut you off. Not that Twitter would be alone in doing this: Facebook has been at it all along, too.
A bit of history: Dorsey was forced to leave the helm in 2008. That permitted Tony Wang, a British-based Twitter poohbah, to view the company as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.”
Little did he know: Dorsey would return three years hence. And with him came back the merry times of the so-called Russian meddling in American politics, culminating in the Trump – Kremlin collusion. That the Russians would have preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald J. Trump was irrelevant.
Why would they prefer Mrs. Clinton?
Easy, came a reply from Moscow, easier to blackmail.
See, the Russians (and the Soviets) have a different set of values. When Ronald Reagan was running against Jimmy Carter, many expected them to support Carter, the bulwark of left-wing liberalism. They did not: Reagan, they would explain to those allowed to hear their real opinions, hated them, they were aware of it, and that was fine with them. Carter would shed crocodile tears over their new battalions in Cuba and do nothing, or cry angry words of surprise over their invasion of Afghanistan, declaring an Olympic boycott and an embargo on exports of American wheat, which the Soviets quickly replaced, using supplies from Argentina and Canada.
Who needs this wall-to-wall moron with no principles we could understand? they asked at the time, no doubt just rhetorically.
And so it was with the left-wing Democratic media-led paranoia about all things Russian, with Twitter right in the frontlines of the charge.
Under Dorsey, Twitter’s censorship included the New York Post, just because the paper dared post information about current President’ son Hunter’s laptop. Twitter saw fit to call the story misinformation and hacked materials.
Twitter has never apologised after it became obvious the paper was right and the platform was not.
The list almost endless, and it raises serious questions about Twitter’s status. Here’s why: America’s Section 230 says that platforms are immune from legal liability for content they host, but publishers are not.
By censoring others, Twitter has been behaving like a narrow-minded publisher would. Definitely not like a platform that permits a free-for-all exchange of ideas, views and opinions.
Besides, the new Twitter CEO has been very much involved when his company acquired Fabula in 2019.
Nothing of importance, just a London-based start-up that has been working on artificial intelligence programs (AI for short) that would detect what they and their authors see as fake news and disinformation.
And again, it won’t be the actual content that the new applications would judge. Fabula’s co-founder Michael Bronstein, who is also professoring at London’s Imperial College, was pretty blunt: his software would judge fake news not by what it’s saying but by the way it spreads. There’s a specific pattern to it, Bronstein says.
Michael Bronstein has served as a professor at USI Lugano, Switzerland, and held visiting positions at Stanford, Harvard, MIT, TUM, and Tel Aviv University.
He received his PhD with distinction from the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) in 2007.
His main expertise, the College’s website says, is in theoretical and computational geometric methods for machine learning and data science, and his research encompasses a broad spectrum of applications ranging from computer vision and pattern recognition to geometry processing, computer graphics, and biomedicine. Bronstein has written (the website calls it “authored”) over 200 papers, a book, and holds over 35 granted patents.
Bronstein is a modest kind of guy: his training algorithm, he said, also relied upon labels from third-party fact checkers. He’s not the only genius behind the AI scheme, so to speak. Bronstein said he meant outlets such as Snopes and PolitiFact. These two have been known (and publicly accused of) unbecoming pedantry that serves their outspoken political bias.
But who cares?
Twitter has banned a number of users who (their own expression explaining the move) were “undermining faith in NATO.”
The government of Nigeria wouldn’t accept Twitter censoring the country’s president. Twitter got outlawed there. Twitter also got in bed with two formerly professional news agencies, the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters, with a stated goal of elevating credible information (their words, whatever they are supposed to mean).
Agrawal is fine with Twitter “moving towards how we recommend content,” meaning the company’s “trending” tabs. It seems the time has come for Twitter’s users to be fine with using other social media platforms, those that don’t tell them what is proper to say (and write) and what is not.