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When Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs originally set out to create what are now the world’s titans of social media—Facebook, Twitter, and the like—they probably never envisioned having the kind of political influence they do now. Initially, they just wanted to create platforms where people could connect and communicate. What they ended up doing, however, was permanently reshaping the way large swaths of the world’s population get their news. By extension, these companies have played a major role in crafting people’s political views. That’s a lot of power, and it’s difficult for tech companies to decide how they should use it.
The question of how to draw the line between “controversial free expression” and “hate speech” has been a hot topic lately, and Twitter in particular has grappled a lot with this query. Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones serves as the perfect example. Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify all recently took aggressive steps to limit Jones’ access; Twitter has been reluctant to follow suit. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey argued that political ideology cannot dictate what is and isn’t appropriate behavior on the site.
“The real question behind the question is, ‘Are we doing something according to political ideology or viewpoints?’ And we are not. Period,” Dorsey told The Washington Post. “We do not look at content with regards to political viewpoint or ideology. We look at behavior.”
Dorsey’s philosophy held up for years, but the extremist political discourse of 2018 has demanded he take a closer look. Earlier this month, Jones urged his audience to get their “battle rifles” ready for a war with the mainstream media. Faced with this sort of violent rhetoric, Dorsey was forced to take action. The social media mogul told The Washington Post that he’s now considering reworking Twitter in an effort to slow down “hate speech, harassment, and false news.”
These debates are only made more difficult by the extremists currently in power in Washington. Donald Trump is one of Twitter’s most prominent users, and he recently made headlines when he accused Twitter of “shadow banning” prominent Republicans. As incendiary content on social media continues making the rounds, and prominent politicians keep working to shift the goalposts, the work of Dorsey and other tech CEOs is only going to get more complicated.