Friday, November 2, 2012

European Laws Prosecuting Hate Speech Radically Alter Twitter’s Free Market for Information

Twitter Under Attack
Most consultants and marketers will at some point talk to clients about using Twitter to build a brand and speak directly to consumers. Twitter is often seen as an endless source of user stream-of-consciousness, but as the popular site continues to transition from a social network to a global media platform, discrepancies in international law are forcing Twitter to rethink its fundamental identity. As a graduate student in Northwestern's Medill IMC marketing program, I have studied in-depth the role that social media plays in serving as a conduit for popular discourse, and I am very interested in understanding how Twitter occupies a position of prominence within that space.

Twitter is under fire for allowing hate speech in Europe

Increasing Legal Pressure
The major change to Twitter's policy comes as special police units from multiple European countries are pressuring Twitter to block accounts that they claim engage in hate speech, and the site appears willing to cave to these demands. According to social media journalist Alex Fitzpatrick of Mashable, Twitter recently agreed to ban an account run by neo-Nazis in Germany, where Holocaust denial is a crime. Furthermore, as NPR’s French correspondent Eleanor Beardsley reports, Twitter last week agreed to remove a series of anti-Semitic posts in France after a Jewish student group threatened to sue. While Twitter has claimed the power to censor posts and accounts since last January, this marks the first time the immensely popular site has ever taken proactive action against a user.

Three Things to Learn from This Incident 

 1. Faster Response Time 

Many social media experts see this development as troubling because Twitter's slow and tentative response to account management reflects the site's inability to operate at the pace of its content. In a rapidly evolving world marked by the constant proliferation of information, it is clear that Twitter needs to do a better job of preventing content-related controversies before they happen.

2. Enhanced Account Verification

This likely entails adopting higher quality control measures designed to ensure the authenticity and legality of accounts and postings, and greater oversight at the administrative level, so that all queries and complaints can be translated into action.

3. Rethink the Meaning of Social Networks

Additionally, I would recommend that everyone interested in social media, technology, and business applications of information platforms consider the subtle but important distinction between a social network and global media platform. While a social network is merely a place to share content and engage like-minded users, a global media platform represents a dominant and recognized mode of communication that is more than just the sum of its content.

Change is on the Horizon
Twitter needs to act now before the site becomes a heap of fake accounts and spam like MySpace during the late 2000's. Proactively filtering content is the only way to avoid actual censorship, which appears to be a death sentence given the brand's fundamental liberty inducing identity. Social media junkies and young business professionals alike need to register the paradigmatic shift that has propelled social media into the Geo-political space so that they can leverage its full potential while also accounting for a range of risks that are truly global in nature.

Dan Jennis is an Integrated Marketing Communications student living in Chicago.  He is interested in the way that information technology platforms transform our understanding of popular discourse and customer behavior.  You can reach him with questions or comments on Twitter @DanielEJennis.

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