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Twitter says “traditional dichotomy” of platform vs publisher doesn’t really work any more

Twitter was questioned by British lawmakers this week.
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The UK has been inserting itself into internal US politics as a group of members of the country’s parliament decided to urge the most influential social networks to censor President Trump. Even the reason why is strictly domestic to the US – the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and riots.

In what seems a clear-cut case of foreign meddling, even though it’s highly unlikely anyone will actually call it that, several MPs used a parliamentary committee meeting with representatives of and dedicated to online harms to press the giants to censor Trump’s speech.

Many consider his tweets regarding the crisis as incendiary and even racist – but Trump’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” remark not getting deleted by Twitter and Facebook is what irked these MPs, regardless of the fact it was also reported by a large number of media outlets.

Facebook’s representative Monika Bickert, replying to a Labour MP, said the company was motivated by the desire to “allow discussion of government use of force” when deciding to keep Trump’s post up.

As for Twitter – who famously placed a warning label on the tweet while not deleting it and also thus preventing other users from retweeting it – its representative was asked by a Conservative MP whether the social network was now a publisher or a platform – seeing how it’s editing and framing content generated by users, in this case, by Trump. And when it was suggested that many people think it is a hybrid of both, Twitter’s Nick Pickles seemed fine with the idea.

“Now that you’re imposing scrutiny on President Trump’s tweets, are you a platform, a publisher?” Conservative MP Julian Knight asked. “Or do you recognize you are what many people believe you are, which is a hybrid of both?”

“I totally agree with the premise. I don’t think the traditional dichotomy really works anymore,” answered Nick Pickles, director of public policy strategy at Twitter, especially now that Twitter is working to provide extra context for tweets – from “journalists, experts, academics, third parties.”

An MP from Scotland’s ruling party, SNP, seemed to suggest that Trump’s whole account should be suspended, because this happened to another user who was tweeting the same words as the president.

But Twitter’s representative recalled the company’s policy adopted last summer which favors public figures, and verified accounts with a large following over “regular” users, and also gives the company the right to decide whether or not to remove or leave tweets and accounts up. (In other words, the rule is that there are no actual rules – it’s all at Twitter’s discretion.)

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