Big Debate: Hashtag Democracy

Artwork by Joshua Kallenberg



 With Nick Griffin and Neo-Nazi group Better Hannover being recent examples of controversy on the Twittersphere, Big Debate asks, should Tweets be censored?


“NO” John Briggs

The world is full of people with abhorrent views. Nick Griffin, the man so keen to portray himself as the new Churchill but who manages to remain less relevant in the British psyche than the nodding dog who has stolen his mantra, is one such man. So when Griffin expressed this week that he believed it was right to discriminate against gay people it was perhaps understandable that the public outcry led to demands for his Twitter account to be banned. Concurrently to the Griffin situation, a more serious but less publicised incident was occurring on the micro blogging site. Twitter itself censored a group for the first time, a neo-Nazi organisation whose views are illegal in Germany had their account blocked, although only in their home country. Despite the fact that all sane people disagree with Griffin, and even the irrelevant yapping puppy of British politics would find the views of the ‘Better Hannover’ group hard to swallow, censorship is not the correct course of action. After all we all have a right no to freedom of speech, but no one has the right not to be offended.

Twitter is undeniably a phenomenal platform for free speech, in fact it probably offers the best platform for debate with political figures in the social network society. There is no other way that I could directly tell Nick Griffin that I thought his views were outdated, outlandish and outrageous while pointing out that he has the political charisma of slobbering
hog and expect a response, or at the very least know that other people could see this view. Twitter offers us a unique opportunity to hold our politicians to account. A fact the chancellor found out to his ire this week when he considered himself too good to sit in standard class carriage on the train, but too poor to pay for a first class ticket. However if we allow censorship of any views, no matter how outrageous they may seem, we run the risk of being censored our
selves. Furthermore the best way to combat extremist views is to allow them to be aired, and disagreed with publically. Some would say that to over-publicise an extreme view runs the risk of over emphasising how widespread it is, but doing this via censorship of Twitter both invites greater exaggeration in the press and concurrently insults the intelligence of
those who use the micro-blogging site.

You could argue that the neo-Nazis are far more threatening than Nick Griffin and of course you could be right. However at the same time by censoring them, Twitter and the German government is only likely to drive them underground, thus accumulating more support, which will make their message harder to combat. This is an all too common theme with extreme right wing views, the easy route is to censor them rather than invite debate, it is always a popular option, but this runs the risk of causing a rise in sympathy by appearing oppressive yourself.

Twitter is perhaps the most powerful of the new social media networks, it certainly has more political influence than Facebook or Reddit and this is an undeniably good thing. However by consenting to censorship of extreme views, no matter how abhorrent, we put this at risk. After all, if the British National Party gained power in Britain I can’t imagine their ever so tolerant leader adhering to the extolling of the virtues of multiculturalism via the internet. Can you?


“YES” Krisztina Fozo

During the last six years Twitter and other social forums have been through massive changes in content. In the early years, the whole concept centred on making friends, telling jokes and light conversation. Since then, however, Twitter has morphed into a social power, being manipulated by politicians and interest groups who have realised its influential potential. For this, Twitter needs to take action.

Not very long ago, in January, a group sympathising with Nazi ideology began tweeting anti-Semitic comments on their blog. ’Better Hannover’ was banned from the website after the German government intervened and requested Twitter to do so. More recently the always charming Nick Griffin, leader of BNP, posted about a gaycouple who were discriminated from staying in a B&B owned by a disapproving Christian and received £3,600 by court sentence. Griffin posted their address and encouraged his followers to cause trouble at the couple’s house.

Twitter deleted this post and suspended his account for less than a day. Homophobia is no rarity of course, and Griffin may attempt to justify his views on some traditionalism. However, what is worrying is the fact that he could tweet the couple’s private address to themasses without regulation. It went further than expressing a view. Extremist groups and individuals will always do their best to get themselves heard, it’s to be expected. The problem is that Twitter allows them to easily spread their beliefs on an international scale. Twitter and Facebook were positively utilised in Libya and Egypt last year to spread political discussion and raise issues that might not otherwise have been publicised. This just makes it all the more important that Twitter is not overtaken by extremist, suppressive ideologies. Freedom of speech ought to
be a tool to support minorities, to provide a chance for the suppressed to articulate their opinion. Threatening gay people and spreading racist ideologies are not issues of the freedomof speech, but matters of popular discrimination no one can justify. or even think of justifying . such statements and actions with the idea of the freedom of speech. The very sophisticated comeback of  ‘this is a free country! I say whatever I want’ is a purely opportunistic and muddled way to interpret the right. The phrase ’one man’s rights end where another’s begins comes to mind here. Yes Nick Griffin, you may articulate your mad opinions, but opinions are one thing and listing someone’s address is something completely different and intolerable.

Twitter has to take responsibility for the content that it displays. Vague policies and ticking the accept the terms and conditions box doesn’t make a difference. Tweets which are discriminatory should simply not be tolerated. As one of the most visited sites on the globe,Twitter has a responsibility not to broadcast anti-Semitism, homophobia and other
such radical prejudice. In a world of rational, fair people, censorship would not be necessary. But the truth is, some don’t know how to utilise and exercise their rights. Griffin and the members of Better Hannover clearly have no clue or purposely defy them. Either way, if they want to be on Twitter, they must decipher what constitutes amature comment
and what is bluntly discrimination. We live in a society of democracy, not anarchy.

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