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.