How can a company consider its product to be a human right if it then goes ahead and denies its access to others? This question would presently be plaguing Twitter if the Big Tech giant had even a modicum of self-awareness.
Twitter was recently banned in Nigeria after the site deleted a tweet from the country’s former dictator-turned-President Muhammadu Buhari and temporarily suspended his account. The offending tweet reportedly read, “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.” Twitter claimed the message was “was in violation of the Twitter Rules,” and deleted the tweet while putting Buhari on 12-hour read-only mode.
In anger at the censorship, Buhari decided to ban the platform from his entire country, blocking access on the network and threatening to prosecute anyone who does not comply. He said the move is not merely a reaction to his brief Twitter suspension, but rather a broader push to fight disinformation from the platform. This decision, however, is a clear push against free speech from the Nigerian government.
Twitter sprung into action, tweeting about the importance of a “free and open internet” as “an essential human right,” with the message being that inability to access Twitter violated said right.
We are deeply concerned by the blocking of Twitter in Nigeria. Access to the free and #OpenInternet is an essential human right in modern society.
We will work to restore access for all those in Nigeria who rely on Twitter to communicate and connect with the world. #KeepitOn
— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) June 5, 2021
This is a really interesting position from a company that has very publicly been censoring its users’ content, including deleting tens of thousands of users along with then-President Donald Trump in January.
For what Twitter calls a human right, the tech giant sure is selective on who it allows to use its platform and what it allows to be posted. It selectively enforces rules surrounding inciting violence and blatantly engages in viewpoint discrimination through censorship. It censored mention of Hunter Biden’s laptop while allowing hoaxes and conspiracy theories to propagate about Trump. It shut down discussion of vaccine concerns and questions about masks; the only doctors whose opinions mattered were those who agreed with whatever position Fauci held that day. If you think the 2016 election was rigged, you’re free to tweet to your heart’s content, but mention of 2020 election fraud is not tolerated.
Twitter taking a stand against a head of state unsubtly threatening his people with violence for dissent and combatting free speech violations in oppressive countries would be a fine position for the tech company to take — if that is actually what the company did. If Twitter truly cared about free and open access to the internet, it would not make use of its site contingent on having the proper politics. If banning violent dictators were a priority, the ayatollah would have lost his account, not Trump.
Free speech is a human right, one which no government or monopolistic platform ought to be able to take away. Those flouting the rules to continue to exercise this right in Nigeria are brave. If Twitter truly cared about protecting human rights, it would begin internally and cease its arbitrary censorship of ideas it dislikes.