Twitter has turned down a conservative organization’s request to promote tweets highlighting the harmful effects of illegal immigration, apparently because using the word “illegal” to refer to immigrants violates the company’s hate speech rules.
Organizations can pay Twitter to re-up previously posted tweets in the form of promoted content. The promoted tweets function as ads, allowing businesses or advocacy groups to push their content out to a wider group of Twitter users.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a Washington, D.C.-based immigration research group, recently submitted three tweets for promotion:
Much to the group’s surprise, all three tweets were rejected on the grounds of “hate,” says executive director Mark Krikorian.
According to Twitter’s ad policy, promoted content cannot include “hate speech or advocacy” against anyone belonging to number of protected categories, including refugees and immigrants. The CIS tweets, which pointed out the fiscal drain of illegal immigration in the U.S., were apparently too hateful to be re-posted as promoted ads.
The question over how far internet content hosts should go to censor speech in the digital space has taken greater salience in the wake of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville on Saturday. Following the rallies, web hosting company Cloudflare canceled the account of The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website that had suggested the company secretly supported the Stormer’s agenda.
Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince told CNBC that he expelled The Daily Stormer because he “woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet,” but he acknowledged that such power could be abused to tamp down on the speech of other individuals or groups decidedly less extreme than the Stormer.
That looks to be the case with Twitter’s rejection of the CIS tweets — even objective but inconvenient facts about illegal immigration still run afoul of the site’s hate speech censors. As Krikorian noted in a blog post Thursday, the case offers a small but illustrative example of why internet companies may need to be regulated like public utilities not to restrict speech, but to allow it.
“The internet is now a utility more important than phones or cable TV,” Krikorian wrote. “If people can be denied access to it based on the content of their ideas and speech (rather than specific, illegal acts), why not make phone service contingent on your political views? Or mail delivery?”