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Is @jack complicit?

The study of Donald Trump is now moving to the realm of psychology, as trying to understand him politically is being seen as a lost cause. This is perfect since there is quite a lot that can be read from the U.S. President’s recent “ my nuclear button is bigger that your nuclear button ” tweet addressing the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. But beyond the obvious phallic jokes, there were some other issues that the tweet threw up.

Many saw the casual threat of nuclear war — Mr. Trump’s second since taking office — as breaking Twitter’s rule, which says users cannot make “specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people”. On Tuesday night, a protest group projected the words “@jack is #complicit” on the Twitter headquarters building, implying that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who uses the handle @jack, was being hypocritical by allowing Mr. Trump to continue on Twitter.

However, those raising the allegation missed a small addendum to the rule that Twitter had started enforcing from December 18 : This policy does not apply to accounts that are affiliated to military or government entities. And @realDonaldTrump is, of course, a government entity. With this new rule, Twitter protects itself from the fallouts of whatever call to arms that Mr. Trump, in his wisdom, decides to tweet. But it opens the gates of hell for those whose governments or military cannot be relied upon to tweet in their best interest.

The social media giants born in the heady days of the open Internet have based their censorship mechanism on the wisdom of the collective: if something is bad, someone will report it. Twitter has now given a free pass on that to regimes. With government-to-people communication in many countries happening increasingly on social media now, dog-whistle speeches and signalling can now only be highlighted, not blocked. By looking to cover its bases while leaving its users out in the open, @jack does remain complicit.

There is an interesting footnote to this in two instances of censorship that we saw in the Indian social media sphere in the last month. One was the decision of the administrator of ‘The Humans of Hindutva’ to take down the Facebook page, reportedly following death threats to his family. Soon after the page went down, its detractors falsely claimed that their collective reporting efforts had led to Facebook penalising the page that specialised in extremely sarcastic posts targeting the ‘Sanghis’. The other was Twitter’s suspension of the @mediacrooks handle, which specialised in an extremely vitriolic targeting of the ‘liberal left-wing media’. The account was reinstated after a few days of heavy tweeting in support of it. In one instance, there was a rush to claim what was possibly coerced using death threats as a result of the effectiveness of the social media’s monitoring rules; in the other instance, what was actually the result of the platform’s policies was projected as a failure to uphold free speech.


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Printable version | Aug 10, 2022 4:54:56 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/is-jack-complicit/article22369206.ece