New Twitter rules, CEO Parag Agrawal signal social media giant still doesn't understand freedom of speech

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey resigned from his post this week and replacement Parag Agrawal was named to the job.  

Questions immediately circulated over what that would mean for speech on Twitter. Dorsey had famously banned President Donald Trump but continued to allow accounts from despots and their spokespeople in places like North Korea and Iran. Would Agrawal take similar nonsensical measures? 

In an interview with MIT Technology review last year, Agrawal said , "One of the changes today that we see is speech is easy on the internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard. The scarce commodity today is attention. There's a lot of content out there. A lot of tweets out there, not all of it gets attention, some subset of it gets attention. And so increasingly our role is moving toward how we recommend content and that sort of, is, is, a struggle that we're working through in terms of how we make sure these recommendation systems that we're building, how we direct people's attention is leading to a healthy public conversation that is most participatory." 

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Agrawal certainly doesn't sound like he believes Twitter's role is to facilitate free speech. 

The day after the announcement Twitter announced changes to their "private information policy." "When we are notified by individuals depicted, or by an authorized representative, that they did not consent to having their private image or video shared, we will remove it."  Video

It sounds good. Certainly people who have been mobbed on Twitter will appreciate the ability to have their private information contained. But it also will limit things like videos from inside schools indoctrinating children. The larger conversation about what kids are being taught in school is happening at least in part because of materials and videos that have been captured inside schools.  

What about filming a crime? Does the criminal have the right to have their image removed by Twitter? Would the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict be the same if video hadn't emerged of what actually happened that night? 

Twitter has been uniquely bad at assessing situations in the past and adding another layer of difficulty is a bad idea. 

What about protests? Can people in public spaces really have a right to privacy that precludes sharing their images on Twitter? The language on this is vague. "We recognize that there are instances where account holders may share images or videos of private individuals in an effort to help someone involved in a crisis situation, such as in the aftermath of a violent event, or as part of a newsworthy event due to public interest value, and this might outweigh the safety risks to a person. We will always try to assess the context in which the content is shared and, in such cases, we may allow the images or videos to remain on the service." 

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Journalist Nelly Bowles tweeted, tongue-in-cheek, about the new rules, "This is what's known as the Andy Ngo law." Ngo is famous for covering Antifa protests and diligently recording the events despite the group's numerous attempts to stop him. The group would prefer cover from the media and Ngo refuses to grant it.   Video

The trouble, of course, is that Twitter has been uniquely bad at assessing situations in the past and adding another layer of difficulty is a bad idea. 

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Conservatives are rightly worried that the rules will be unfairly applied to them. That has been the case all along with the app. Conservative accounts are removed with little fanfare and no real explanation. 

Agrawal doesn't seem likely to change this trend.  

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