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Twitter Testimony: Transparency and Accountability

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified before the Energy and Commerce House Committee on accusations of politically biased “moderation” of content on its platform.

In his opening statement, Dorsey denied the charges of political bias in the filtering of content.

“We don’t consider political viewpoints, perspectives or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions. Period. Impartiality is our guiding principle.”

He provided an alternative explanation for the perceived discrimination against conservative voices. Twitter had algorithms that gauged the behavior of the followers of a person and used this to filter content.

Those people who had followers the system had determined as toxic would be downranked and removed from trending conversations. However, Dorsey emphasized that upon review of this practice, Twitter had decided that it was unfair to punish users for the behaviors of other people, and therefore changed the algorithms. He volunteered that this practice had negatively affected 600,000 users.

Health Indicators

Dorsey gave an overview of Twitter’s strategy for improving the quality of conversation on their platform and said that they are trying to develop indicators of conversation health that will be used to elevate those exchanges that score high. These indicators included shared attention, shared facts, receptiveness and varieties of perspectives.

Shared attention is the amount of the conversation that is focused on the same things. The goal is in part to identify so-called ideological echo chambers and amplify voices that speak across the aisle.

Dorsey said that this is a work in progress. They are trying to measure the indicators and develop as many of them and intend to test them out on real conversations to see if they can improve the health.

Ideological Divide

The health indicators would probably have divided the committee members who posed questions to Dorsey into two separate ideological bubbles. Their questions were formulaic, almost bot-like, and it is unclear whether they would have been tagged as Russian bots by Twitter’s algorithms.

The Republicans were concerned about conservative voices being silenced on Twitter, whereas the Democrats had the opposite concern. They challenged the tech giant to do more to combat harassment, hate speech, and discrimination. They wanted more silencing, not less.

Dorsey struggled to slalom between the demands of these two polarized viewpoints but said that it was Twitter’s goal to promote conversations in which people were not subjected to threats or hostile behaviors.

Commitment to Free Speech

To the defense of Jack Dorsey, it is worth mentioning that among the progressive companies of Silicon Valley, Twitter seems to be the one most committed to the idea of free speech. Although he denied that the company targets conservatives, there is evidence of discriminatory practice that leaves little doubt that some form of censoring is taking place.

Rather than being eased by Twitter’s denial of shadow banning, conservatives should be vigilant and explore other venues for free speech.

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