It seems like Congress is now also criticizing Twitter for its seeming inaction with regards to the racism running rampant on its platform.
According to Adweek, Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) sent a letter (embedded below) to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, expressing concern over the fact that Twitter seems like it's "being used for the purpose of propagating hate and undermining democracy" (where have they been> They also specifically called out how Russian agents used the platform to exploit people's prejudices and influence the 2016 presidential election, echoing the same criticism that's been leveled at Facebook as of late.
It's notable that the representatives' letter also calls out Twitter's decision not to ban the sharing of heinous racist ideologies, and how this ultimately contributed to events like the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one woman was killed by a man who drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters.
If you've spent any time on the platform, you already know how reports of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and more are often left unheard, with Twitter explaining that those threats don't necessarily go against their Terms of Service. A running "joke" on the platform is that Dorsey and company seem more focused on developing useless "features" like longer tweets than they do taking care of their marginalized users and stemming harassment.
Biz Stone, Twitter's co-founder, recently became the target of much ridicule as he tried to criticize people for complaining about Twitter's abuse problem.
Y'all pile on us. You really think the issue doesn't weigh on us? And you're so dismissive of the Trust and Safety team. We're all people.— Biz Stone (@biz) October 1, 2017
The irony of this tweet, as many have pointed out already, is that it attempts inspire sympathy only for the Trust and Safety team, insisting that they, too, are human. Of course they are — nobody was arguing that — but at the core of many people's complaints is the fact that this team is either too small to handle the enormity of the problem, or they seem to not treat Twitter's userbase as human themselves. Stories abound of how the company has let reports of threats go unanswered and unresolved. Perhaps even more ironic than that is how Stone writes, "Y'all pile on us." As any person belonging to a marginalized community can tell you, getting "piled on" is, tragically, par for the course for existing on Twitter (and social media in general for that matter).
Business Insider reported on the many, many Twitter users who came out against Stone's comments, sharing their own stories of the Trust and Safety team's numerous failings. According to their report, one user, @stonekettle, wrote: "Dude, stop. I've reported/blocked hundreds of bots, trolls, bigots, haters, racists, etc. You don't care. You don't do ANYTHING about it ... I've been attacked by actual Nazis on this platform. Twitter did NOTHING. Trust and Safety. Hilarious."
I handle your lack of protection from abusive accounts by no longer reading mentions from anyone I don't follow. Great business model!— Molly Knight (@molly_knight) October 1, 2017
The longest criticism comes in the form of a long tweet thread from Yonatam Zunger, an ex-Google employee who worked on policy for Google Plus and YouTube. That particular thread touches on many of the concerns shared between Twitter users and the Representatitves Coleman and Cleaver. Zunger wrote: "It's hard to think of a single case where Twitter's answer wasn't 'allow everything, make it users' responsibility to block.' Even when it was very clear that this imposed unscalable burdens on individual users, silenced *their* speech, or created public risks. And Trump using Twitter was clearly far too exciting to leadership as well: 'OMG we're right in the middle of the political process!'
"Twitter chose to optimize for traffic at the expense of user experience. That's why GamerGate, that's why Trump, that's why Nazis."
Essentially, Zunger argues that in making a play for popularity and traffic, Twitter forsook their users' experience. Reps. Coleman and Cleaver expressed the same worry, suggesting that in choosing to do nothing about the racists who flooded the platform, they provided a space for that bias, prejudice, and hatred to grow, dividing the country. Moreover, Reps. Coleman and Cleaver certainly aren't the only members of the federal government to call out Twitter for their failings regarding the Russia investigation, either. Previously, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) expressed disappointment with Twitter's internal investigation, saying that their work was "basically derivative" of Facebook's own investigation.
The representatives later urge Twitter to action, attempting to remind them of their responsibility as a social network and a platform. They wrote: "Further, Twitter has a responsibility to help guard against actions of foreign governments to undermine our democracy and cause cultural divisions in our country. We rely on Twitter to adopt common-sense measures to hold these account-holders accountable, with consequences for sharing hateful and violent messages that put the lives of Americans at risk and meddle in our democracy."
The reps later suggest an alternate course of action if Twitter should fail to meet their requests: Congressional intervention. At the letter's conclusion, they express concern over how "insufficient government oversight" over Twitter "is inadvertently leading to deeper racial divisions and threats to our democracy. If Twitter continues to prove unable or hesitant to grasp the seriousness of this threat and combat the radicalized climate that is being stimulated on your platforms, we, as Members of Congress, will be left with little option but to demand for increased regulations and government oversight of this industry to address these problems."
It's hard to tell if the government can do a better job of cracking down on Twitter's issues, and frankly, the idea of making Twitter a federally regulated resource is one that's hard to imagine. But if Twitter continues to be forced into the center of our democratic process, and as long as the President continues to use the platform to make fun of or provoke other countries, heads of state, journalists, and private citizens, government regulation may very well be an inevitable step but that's when you cue the "free speech" police.