According to BuzzFeed News, then-Twitter CEO Dick Costolo secretly ordered employees to filter out abusive and hateful replies when President Barack Obama conducted a May 2015 #AskPOTUS town hall.
A former senior Twitter employee told Buzzfeed that , Costolo ordered employees to use an in-house algorithm to firewall against abusive language directed at Obama. Twitter went further than that, according to another source, who intimated that the media partnerships team manually censored tweets because the algorithms were not always effective.
Two sources told BuzzFeed News senior company employees were kept in the dark about the surreptitious editing out of concern they would object, as Twitter was had been publicly committed to protecting free speech.
The Obama Q&A was not the only time Twitter censored comments; another source told Buzzfeed that Twitter executed the same maneuver in a Q&A with Caitlyn Jenner.
The source added, “This was another example of trying to woo celebs and show that you can have civilized conversations without the hate even if you’re a high-profile person. But it’s another example of a double standard — we’ll protect our celebrities, while the average user is out there subject to all kinds of horrible things.”
In 2011, Twitter senior executives wrote a blog post that stated, “There are Tweets that we do remove, such as illegal Tweets and spam. However, we make efforts to keep these exceptions narrow so they may serve to prove a broader and more important rule — we strive not to remove Tweets on the basis of their content.” Twitter executives subsequently boasted, “Twitter is the free speech wing of the free speech party.”
Costolo stepped down as CEO soon after the Obama Q&A , though he stayed on Twitter’s board. Speaking to The Guardian on his last day, he opined, “I will say directly that I think regulation is a threat to free speech.”
In an exhaustive piece on Buzzfeed detailing the burgeoning problems over the years with abusive and threatening language on Twitter, Charlie Warzel explains how the company’s tolerance of free speech and refusal to confront those using Twitter to abuse people left and right has become a major problem.
On February 2, 2015, Costolo admitted, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.” The next day, he wrote, “Let me be very, very clear about my response here. I take PERSONAL responsibility for our failure to deal with this as a company. I thought i did that in my note, so let me reiterate what I said, which is that I take personal responsibility for this. I specifically said, ‘It’s nobody’s fault but mine.’ We HAVE to be able to tell each other the truth, and the truth that everybody in the world knows is that we have not effectively dealt with this problem even remotely to the degree we should have by now, and that’s on me and nobody else.”
Yet despite protecting some figures who represent leftist values, such as Obama and Jenner, Twitter has been silent on attacks launched against conservatives; when the alt-right loyal to Donald Trump targeted Jewish media conservatives who opposed Trump by sending death threats and harsh Anti-Semitic memes, Twitter did nothing.
Twitter has a double standard when it comes to whom they censor.