Recently, Twitter has been in the news a lot, talking about plans to block or suspend accounts of people who post objectionable content to the social media network. The main targets of suspensions have been members of the so-called “alt-right” movement, which some people call patriots and others call racists.
The suspensions have touched off a firestorm of debate about the role of social media in the public square as well as the rights of users to speak their minds without censorship. On one side you have people who believe the accounts belong to them, so they should be able to say what they want. On the other, you have those who realize the accounts really belong to the social media company, who can do as they see fit. Get too restrictive, and people move on … but they have the right to choose.
But, sometimes, companies cast too wide a net, and snare those who don’t deserve to be shut down. Such was the case recently when a certain Twitter account was – temporarily – suspended. Nothing unusual about that, but what caused the stir was the identity of the owner of that account – Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Almost immediately, users began speculating what may have happened. Could it have been hackers, or maybe Dorsey had been bombarded with complaints from other users, forcing an automatic shutdown? As the questions and comments flew fast and furious, Twitter was obliged to respond … or to allow speculation to create a narrative fire they didn’t have the time or the resources to douse.
Finally, the folks at Twitter spoke, and the message came from Dorsey himself, blaming “an internal mistake” for the problem … which, of course, had been fixed.
This admission did not have the desired effect. Quite the opposite, in fact. Yes, there were a host of jokes at Twitter’s expense, but there was also a lot of anger. Because … it’s Twitter. Users immediately assumed because it happened to Dorsey, it could have happened to them too. Now, there’s no verifiable evidence that this has happened to a large number of people, much less to the people who immediately lashed out. But evidence doesn’t matter when perception is reality.
Twitter needs to address this growing snowball of frustration and fear its users have that their comments are being curated and culled. Suspicion left to ferment, doesn’t lead to good results.