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BuzzFeed: Twitter secretly censored tweets during Obama Q&A

As part of a larger piece examining Twitter and its widescale user harassment problem, BuzzFeed News has reported that tweets were secretly filtered out and censored for President Obama in 2015. Ahead of a “town hall” question and answer session, Dick Costolo — then Twitter CEO — reportedly ordered staff to develop an algorithm that would strip out abusive language directed at the President. It was perfected, BuzzFeed claims, after analysing “thousands” of vulgar tweets on the platform. Citing anonymous sources, the site says a team also manually censored tweets, due to a belief that the algorithm wouldn’t be up to scratch.

The decision to filter and censor #askPOTUS tweets, if true, would run counter to Twitter’s public position on free speech. The company is, for the most part, a supporter of freedom of expression — arguably to a fault, as a growing numbers of users call on the company to take a stronger, pro-moderation stance on harassment. (Twitter has admitted it needs to do more.) According to BuzzFeed News, what happened during Obama’s town hall was kept secret from “senior company employees,” as Costolo knew how they would react to the idea. Notably, Costolo stepped down from his position two months later, paving the way for Jack Dorsey’s return.

BuzzFeed says these actions are but one part of the company’s scattershot approach to handling harassment. On the one hand, Twitter is known as a place where users can speak only, publicly and honestly. On the other, those freedoms have attracted trolls, who know they can write terrible tweets and tag a user’s handle, guaranteeing their attention. (Until they’re muted or blocked, that is.) Some of its biggest and most influential users — the people Twitter needs to keep in order to draw in new people — have been driven off the platform due to these vile comments. BuzzFeed’s reporting describes a divided company unsure of where to draw the line.

Source: BuzzFeed News

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