Twitter doesn’t have to do anything here

Luciana Berger, the shadow Minister for Public Health, has expressed her disappointment with the social media site’s handling of abuse and called for it to ban racist words such as ‘kike’, (a derogatory term for Jews) “which can never be used in a positive way”.

Talking for the first time since she was the target of thousands of online messages attacking her for being Jewish, Miss Berger told Telegraph Wonder Women: “At the height of the abuse, the police said I was the subject of 2,500 hate messages in the space of three days using the hashtag: #filfthyjewbitch.

“Online hate needs to be taken as seriously as offline hate – but it isn’t. Twitter’s response isn’t good enough. It has a responsibility to do more to protect its users. The site is letting me and many others down who have been the subject of lots of hate… It could start by proactively banning racist words which aren’t allowed to printed in newspapers or broadcast on TV that could never be used in a positive way – such as kike – a derogative and anti-Semitic term for describing a Jew.”

Agreed that such abuse is abuse, vile, ungentlemanly and not something we want to see more of. But that’s entirely different from the question of what duty Twitter has to do anything about it. The answer to that question is “nothing”.

It is a private company offering a service that you can opt into or out of. Don’t like what happens there then don’t go there. It is not state provided, is not a utility, the only laws that can and do cover it are those of libel and incitement to violence. Twitter does state pretty clearly that they’re very libertarian about these sorts of things. Free speech absolutists.

The central part of that viewpoint being that sure, lots of people are pretty vile. Racists abound for example: but free speech does mean that racists have free speech as well as those other people that we approve of have free speech.

42 thoughts on “Twitter doesn’t have to do anything here”

  1. Well put Tim. I think there has been some misrepresentation by the media (they don’t miss a chance to ramp up the hype) of her words/thinking. As is already evident, it is the HASHTAG that was the issue. It wasn’t free speech she wanted blocking, but the tag – and it has now been blocked. Thank you twitter. And shame on those idiots that think this is somehow a way of making a point.

  2. And does anyone else see the irony of the ‘Telegraph’ running a Wonder Women’ series and choosing to include a whiny bitch who wants ‘bad words’ banned from her eyesight?

  3. Typical lefty fascist.*

    IIRC from Guido, our Luciana isn’t a stranger to dishing out the abuse herself; just ask the ever growing club of her ex-staff. They blocked her by walking out.

    * Yes, obvious tautology there.

  4. abuse is abuse, vile, ungentlemanly and not something we want to see more of

    not sure I’m entirely comfortable with that ‘we’ – it’s that prescriptive CiF first person plural, isn’t it?

  5. So wonderful that due to her immense efforts we will now be protected from terms like Goyim and Shiksa oh, wait!

  6. She’s being a bit jewish princess about this. (Am I allowed to say that?)

    Twitter aren’t free speech absolutists out of conviction. It’s cheaper though.

    If online abuse was as widespread as alleged there would be a service (perhaps there already is) to which for a small fee you could report abuse and the service would collate the info and identify the abusers and periodically publish their names and post code. If the service doesn’t exist, it probably means that trolls are not very common but each troll is very active.

  7. The point that you couldn’t print a lot of this stuff in a newspaper without being prosecuted is, however, entirely valid. Which is maybe whey the papers are always going after twatter?

  8. It is incredibly disappointing that the comments here focus more on the person and the politics rather than the issue – which is that Twitter is a private company, offering a service which she could choose to be involved in.

  9. Dan Arlington:

    Your incredible disappointment is a little excessive: Tim made precisely this point and it’s so self-evidently true that I imagine nobody feels the need to repeat it.

  10. Twitter may indeed be a private company but it should be subject to the laws of this country.

    What we need is a Royal commision headed by a retired judge to investigate this matter. Part of the terms of reference for the commision should be the publication of a list of offending words that is banned from public space. Then we can study the list and know how not to offend.

  11. On the semantic element of Ms Berger’s complaint, I wonder how prevalent ‘kike’ is on twitter or in everyday name-calling. She feels it necessary to clarify by explaining for her audience that the word is a “derogative and anti-Semitic term for describing a Jew” which suggests that it’s on the more recherché end of the insult spectrum.

    On a practical level, a ban on ‘kike’ might work but the abuse could simply morph to alternative spellings.

    Conversely “filfthyjewbitch” has already undergone an apparent transformation with its second “f” but even if this weren’t so how can twitter be expected to monitor compounds made up of perfectly reasonable everyday words?

    The most contentious element here is ‘bitch’ but ban that and the Kennel Club’s twitter feed bites the dust.

  12. The Meissen Bison,

    More fool me. Perhaps I should lower my expectations. I would have imagined that the discussion here might have been about the level of involvement the company would have over what content is posted, how responsive it can be, and how it can monitor & maintain intervention. Fortunately, I see you have done just that.

    Instead, quite a lot of the commentary above is about the woman and her politics, which was not the point, as we both clearly have noticed.

  13. In a free society, the company would allow whatever it feels like allowing, and if people don’t like it they can just avoid the product. That’s really the start and end of that discussion.

  14. the discussion here might have been about the level of involvement the company would have over what content is posted, how responsive it can be, and how it can monitor & maintain intervention

    Unless PaulB or our French troll turn up, most here would start from the position:

    1. None unless legally required to (and it has US and EU common carrier / digital service provider immunities. Although possibly not in Italy.)

    2. As little as it can get away with, legally. So about 3 working days.

    3. It shouldn’t. It should only respond to specific takedown requests that meet the appropriate threshold for the relevant jurisdiction.

    4. And, given the above, most of us would be happy if the “relevant threshold” was the legislative equivalent of “dry your eyes, princess”.

  15. Random thoughts:

    Luciana Berger is fit.

    I’ve never heard the word kike used outside old American films.

    “Online hate needs to be taken as seriously as offline hate” – good luck banning an emotion.

    “Miss Berger expressed her concern about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe as a whole.” – yeah. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest idea for your party to “rub our noses” in “diversity”. If you think a few nazi saddos on Twitter are bad, wait till 25-30% of the population is Muslim.

  16. So Much for Subtlety

    Surreptitious Evil – “4. And, given the above, most of us would be happy if the “relevant threshold” was the legislative equivalent of “dry your eyes, princess”.”

    Indeed. But I think I can say with 100% confidence that the British government will not choose this option. They have gone after Guido in the past. They can’t be far behind TW. They will make Twitter make the world safe for female Labour politicians of Jewish extraction.

    Our Lords and Masters do not like to be questioned or mocked. They will use racism or sexism as the thin edge of the wedge to apply regulation through some sort of Qango.

  17. Ian,

    > In a free society, the company would allow whatever it feels like allowing, and if people don’t like it they can just avoid the product. That’s really the start and end of that discussion.

    Except of course that the discussion has been had many a time and that’s not remotely the conclusion that has been reached. I’m perfectly happy to take that attitude to Twitter and to apply it to everyone else as well. But, in this world, where other private companies producing optional avoidable products are governed by laws, why shouldn’t Twitter be? There’s nothing libertarian about arguing that we should have different laws for different companies.

    I’ll happily support absolute free speech for Twitter and The Telegraph and Sky and Facebook and The Sun. I see no reason to support it only for companies that whine that obeying the law makes their business plan awkward.

  18. “Maybe it wasn’t the smartest idea for your party to “rub our noses” in “diversity”. If you think a few nazi saddos on Twitter are bad, wait till 25-30% of the population is Muslim.”

    She’ll be off abroad by then.

  19. I think Nick Cohen’s spot on:.

    The state intervenes when the principles of a liberal society collapse. Usually it blunders in. Invariably it destroys basic freedoms. No one except the most blinkered supporters of authoritarian government can predict with confidence that its “crackdowns” and “emergency measures” will make our lives better or safer. But there you are. When supposedly good and responsible people fail to police themselves, the government will summon the real police to do the job for them.

  20. While the behaviour of Twitter is an issue, it is an error to say the politics of the person calling for action on their part is unmiportant. A legilstor is saying how a company should behave; if, as we mostly seem to hope, they carry on regardless it is not usreasonable to assume said legislator will try to legislate to force them to behave the way she thinks they should.

  21. TomJ,

    > it is not usreasonable to assume said legislator will try to legislate to force them to behave the way she thinks they should.

    This is nonsense. Berger is suggesting that Twitter obey the same already existing laws as everyone else. The reason they haven’t been doing so is that tech firms have done a great lobbying job the last decade or so, persuading people that the law doesn’t apply to them because technology.

    Let’s just imagine that one day every single letter in The Times was titled “Filthy Jew Bitch”. Murdoch would be OK, would he? No legal repercussions there?

  22. S2

    Without getting quite so vehement, I’d say that the difference is not so much ‘because technology’ as ‘because editor’ or ‘because circulation figures’.

    Take your own case: you became concerned about possible repercussions in the wake of your Russell Brand piece gaining a huge readership. From being an obscure blogger, pretty much unknown to the wider world, you unwittingly found yourself transformed into a publisher whose output might be prejudicial to your day job.

    How much more anonymous and insignificant is the twitter account of a malevolent nonentity?

  23. Squander – Let’s just imagine that one day every single letter in The Times was titled “Filthy Jew Bitch”.

    Dear Sir/Filthy Jew Bitch,

    I would like to express my gratitude for the cheesecake pictures of Luciana Berger you published in the women’s section.

    I’d like to to give her an intifada – if you know what I mean. And I think you do.

    Yours in Christ,

    Mel Gibson

  24. and called for it to ban racist words such as ‘kike’, (a derogatory term for Jews) “which can never be used in a positive way”.

    Poliitcians never act in a positive way. Can we ban them from speaking in any media?

  25. Tin Newman – she represents Scousers, and she’s called Luciana?

    She must need an interpreter when she holds surgeries.

  26. ‘Kike’ is one of those words I’d never heard until I herd someone demanding that it be banned. See, also, ‘Slope’ (in the Clarkson context). Every school kid in the country know the words now.. great job, Offencerati.

    Whilst not denying it’s existence, nor it’s unpleasantness, I have never witnessed anti-semitism except to the extent that some consider it indistinguishable from anti-Israelism.

    I recall a piece (in Spiked, probably) pointing out the statistical shenanigans behind the great rise in anti-semitism.. and note that it’s the ‘European’ rise that’s cited as a problem.. not a British one.

    Maybe I’m out of touch with the modern British bigot, but I really don’t see that there’s much of a thing here.

  27. The Thought Gang – yar, and it’s hard to stay current with what’s racist and what isn’t.

    Like “Chinky” – it refers to a race of people and a food, so you’d think it would be all right. But apparently not.

    So nowadays I order Thai instead.

  28. Whilst not denying it’s existence, nor it’s unpleasantness, I have never witnessed anti-semitism except to the extent that some consider it indistinguishable from anti-Israelism.

    I think most British anti-semitism is dressed up as anti-Israelism these days. That’s not to say that being anti-Israel is always anti-semetic (and it’s often not), but I would point out that the anti-Israel mob:

    1) Use arguments, historical interpretations, and language that is often indistinguishable from that of genuine anti-semites such as Hamas; and

    2) Usually fail to explain why, out of 196 countries in the world, their ire is directed only at the one that happens to be Jewish.

    Norm Geras used to spend a lot of time pointing out that the modern, polite way to be an old fashioned anti-semite is to dress up one’s language in an anti-Israel guise.

  29. S2,

    “This is nonsense. Berger is suggesting that Twitter obey the same already existing laws as everyone else. The reason they haven’t been doing so is that tech firms have done a great lobbying job the last decade or so, persuading people that the law doesn’t apply to them because technology.”

    I think it’s more about newspapers having generally more mainstream audiences.

    One problem with our laws in this area is that we’ve never really had a proper debate in society about them. Personally, I don’t understand why “religious hatred” even exists as a thing. Someone can call me a “filthy Friedmanite bastard” until I say that God spoke to me and told me that Milton Friedman was a prophet, at which point the same beliefs become protected by the law.

  30. Be careful with those twitter has tag things. The party to launch Susan Boyle’s new album was

    #susanalbumparty

  31. Squander2-

    But, in this world, where other private companies producing optional avoidable products are governed by laws, why shouldn’t Twitter be?

    No, that’s the “A suffers so it’s fine for B to suffer too” argument, when the correct approach is, “B does not suffer and neither should A“.

    It’s certainly true that once you censor one thing, the argument moves on to censoring the next thing. So, don’t censor anything.

  32. Thanks IanB, you just beat me to it. I don’t understand why so many relatively sensible people can fall prey to Legal Positivism of this kind. “Do it to Julia” etc.

  33. So Much for Subtlety

    Squander Two – “This is nonsense. Berger is suggesting that Twitter obey the same already existing laws as everyone else. … Let’s just imagine that one day every single letter in The Times was titled “Filthy Jew Bitch”. Murdoch would be OK, would he? No legal repercussions there?”

    Twitter is fundamentally different from a newspaper. Murdoch has complete control over what he and his papers publish. Twitter does not provide content. It provides a platform. Is Murdoch responsible for every letter *sent* to the Times saying rude things about Ms Berger? Obviously not. It is responsible for those it chooses to publish.

    Now Twitter does censor people. Every now and then it takes down an Islamist tweeter. Not often but it does. But to what extent is it responsible for what people say on its platform? Is the landlord responsible for every boring racist conversation in his pub? Should taxi companies be fined if their drivers say that Enoch Powell was on to something? What law is it that Twitter is breaking?

    Steve – “So nowadays I order Thai instead.”

    Racism is an evolving concept so formerly acceptable terms like Oriental are now not. And for African-Americans we have had euphemism piled on euphemism which has left some organisations with euphemistic names stranded like a whale at high tide – the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for instance.

    So expect your grandchildren to denounce you for racism because you ordered Thai at some point in your life.

    Ian B – “No, that’s the “A suffers so it’s fine for B to suffer too” argument, when the correct approach is, “B does not suffer and neither should A“.”

    Absolutely. There is a ratchet effect here but it ought to be moving in the way of more freedom not less.

    “It’s certainly true that once you censor one thing, the argument moves on to censoring the next thing. So, don’t censor anything.”

    Not going to happen though is it? That is the point. And the purpose of the education system is to make sure the next generation will be Right Thinkful and so it will not even occur to them. Won’t work because they will still hate us even if we don’t hate them, as we largely don’t. But that is the intention.

  34. SMFS – I was being tongue in cheek about the “chinky” thing but, “Oriental” is lacist now?

    Bloody hell. SOAS is in trouble.

  35. So Much for Subtlety

    Steve – ““Oriental” is lacist now?”

    Apparently so. Not quite sure why either.

    “Bloody hell. SOAS is in trouble.”

    Must be one of the last universities to use the term although I think Oxford and Cambridge still do. The British Library does not. Which is ironic given how politically correct SOAS is.

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