INTERNATIONAL – September 5 looks set to be a historic day for Twitter.
Twitter’s chief executive Jack Dorsey will make his debut in Congress, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russian interference in US elections.
Then in the afternoon the House Energy and Commerce Committee will grill him about claims that his company is biased against conservatives.
The accusation has been levied repeatedly in recent weeks by conservative commentators and lawmakers, including President Trump (on Twitter, ironically enough). These complaints were part of a wave being directed at tech companies, most recently Google, which the president tweeted on August 28, without factual basis, was gaming search results to portray him negatively.
Twitter is in a more precarious position than its larger competitors, though.
Dorsey’s company cannot match their user bases or cash reserves, and the modest user growth he has fostered over the past two years could vanish if Twitter starts losing conservatives over concerns, warranted or not, about bans and “shadow bans” (in which a user’s content is invisible to everyone but themselves—a practice Twitter says it doesn’t engage in).
On the other side, the service could lose liberals who won’t participate on a site they perceive to be fostering abusive speech or bending rules to accommodate conservatives.
The latest flashpoint is a decision Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and Google-owned YouTube made in early August to purge content from Alex Jones, the shock-radio host and creator of the website InfoWars, over posts and videos that violated their hate-speech and harassment policies.
Twitter has also been under mounting pressure to ban Jones, notably for spreading false assertions that the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut was a hoax. After his competitors’ decision, Dorsey tweeted that Jones “hasn’t violated our rules” and implied that other platforms had caved to political pressure.
But days later, CNN dug up a number of Jones and InfoWars tweets that appeared to violate Twitter’s rules.
The company agreed, ruling that Jones would have to delete some of them. And when, a few days after that, Jones tweeted a video calling for supporters to prepare their “battle rifles” for the media and others, Twitter suspended @RealAlexJones and @infowars for a week.
Since then, the company has been battered by the far right, the far left, and seemingly everyone in between, demonstrating the delicate line it’s walking in trying to draw users from across the political spectrum.