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By Jay Hobbs
Aug 01, 2022

How They Scored: Twitter

Since the creation of the Internet, the methods to engage in speech have radically changed. No longer are newspapers and books the primary source of information for Americans, instead, we turn to our phones, internet, and social media apps, like Twitter.

Perhaps more than any other Big Tech platform, Twitter prides itself on being a free speech venue. When it launched in 2006, Twitter seemed to be the ideal tool for anybody in the world to share their ideas, experiences, and beliefs—all while bypassing traditional gate-keeping institutions to connect people from across a wide variety of social and ideological spectrums.

But Twitter has long since lost the right to call itself a free speech champion—let alone one known for “defending and respecting the user’s voice,” as it states in its core values. Far from allowing the best, most persuasive arguments to carry the day, Twitter is constantly in the headlines for punishing users who express viewpoints that challenge the established orthodoxies of the Silicon Valley elite.

While examples of censorship abound, Twitter’s recent suspensions of Jordan Peterson and Dave Rubin under its “hateful conduct” policy provide a clear snapshot of the platform’s problematic approach to what is often downplayed as mere “content moderation.” After suspending Peterson for his tweet pointing out that Elliot Page, formerly known as Ellen Page, is a biological woman, Twitter also suspended Rubin for publicly backing Peterson’s claim on the platform.

It’s only been a decade since Twitter leadership publicly touted the company as “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” but it’s clear the Blue Bird is falling far short of this noble goal. That same reality is reflected in Twitter’s abysmal score on the Viewpoint Diversity Score 2022 Business Index, which evaluates the policies and practices of 50 publicly traded Fortune 1000 companies in sectors that have high impact on free speech and religious freedom, like banking, tech, and financial services.

Overall, Twitter scored 6 percent—tied with Amazon as the fifth-lowest performing firm on the 2022 edition of the Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index. Over 200 million people use Twitter every day, the majority of whom rely on the platform as their primary news delivery system. With so much of our society dependent on Twitter, its subpar performance on the Index is cause for concern and demands immediate corrective action by the Company.

Public Square

Most noticeably, Twitter missed out on all 21 applicable points in the public square section of the Index. That’s almost entirely due to Twitter’s support for causes that undermine freedom of speech and religion.

Twitter’s concerning track record in this area includes explicit support for the so-called “Equality Act”—legislation that seeks to elevate sexual orientation and gender identity to the same level of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in federal law. This proposal poses a deliberate and substantial threat to free speech, religious freedom, and the progress that women have made toward true equal treatment under the law.

In practice, the Equality Act would coerce people who willingly serve everyone to promote messages and celebrate events that conflict with their beliefs. It would harm equal treatment of women by forcing them to compete against men in their own athletic events and share private spaces with people of the opposite sex. And it would harm religious freedom by coercing uniformity of thought and speech on marriage, sex, and what it means to be male and female.

But Twitter’s support for the Act through the Human Rights Campaign’s “Business Coalition for the Equality Act” isn’t the only adverse action it’s taken against core American protections for free speech and religious liberty. Twitter also joined 31 other companies (including PayPal, Alphabet (Google), Apple, and Airbnb) on an amicus brief at the U.S. Supreme Court supporting an unsuccessful attempt to punish faith-based adoption providers for operating according to their beliefs. Twitter’s activism on divisive political issues should be a major red flag for corporate leadership who have a responsibility to respect the fundamental values of free speech and religious freedom which undergird the Company’s core mission as a medium for free expression.

Market

At 8 percent, Twitter preformed slightly better on the market section of the Index. Twitter does notify users when content is removed and provides a basic rationale for its decisions. But there is much to be desired.

Like many other social media platforms, Twitter’s terms of use and service are riddled with vague and imprecise restrictions on what users can say online. Such restrictions are dangerous because they leave the door wide open for censorship – without specifying any clear limits on the Company’s discretion to suppress speech. Similarly, Twitter’s policies allow the Company to restrict expression on account of its perceived “offensiveness” to certain groups based on categories like race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This might sound good in principle, but in practice, it means shutting down debate on consequential issues like family, marriage, and sexuality.  For example, Twitter says it does not allow hate speech or advocacy against a number of protected groups. It also does not allow organizations who promote hate related content, but it never defines what it means to advocate against a group, or what hate-related content is.

[Find our resource on the risk of unclear or imprecise terms in products or service policies here.]

Unfortunately, Twitter’s current policies fail to appreciate a critical First Amendment maxim: The answer to speech you don’t like is more speech, not censorship. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Louis D. Brandeis, wrote in a 1927 decision, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

As we’ve noted with Peterson and Rubin, Twitter’s current polices give employees wide latitude to censor speech with which they disagree. Rather than perpetuating an open door for censorship and viewpoint-based discrimination, the world’s largest “speech” platform should heed the wisdom of the First Amendment by creating narrowly tailored polices that avoid unfettered discretion, respect the expression of all points of view, and specify clear limits on the company’s ability to censor speech.

Workplace

At just 7 percent on the workplace section, Twitter typifies what tech entrepreneur and Viewpoint Diversity Score advisory council member Peter Rex described as the ideological strictures of Silicone Valley’s “woke” culture that seeks to radically suppress viewpoints that challenge its stifling homogeneity.

“The biggest talent pool in the world doesn’t matter if the ocean that surrounds it is intellectually shallow,” writes Rex, who started his company in San Francisco before moving to Seattle, and ultimately, to Texas. “If a business is based in a place that expects social and political conformity, then innovation will falter eventually, because it depends on pushing the boundaries.”

A look at Twitter’s workplace policies exemplify Rex’s critique. Aside from prohibiting religious discrimination in the workplace, Twitter’s only other positive score was for  recognizing an interfaith employee resource group (ERG). This is a start, but Twitter should go further by allowing faith-specific groups to form around the diverse faiths represented in its workforce. ERGs are important for facilitating community, networking, and professional development, and often allow companies to tap into new markets. Twitter already hosts employee resource groups along the lines of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity – but it doesn’t yet publicly disclose ERGs that serve specific faith traditions like Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims. An interfaith ERG simply doesn’t provide the same kind of community and belonging that faith-specific ERGs would enable. This is a significant gap Twitter must work to bridge if it hopes to promote religious diversity in its workforce.

The Company should also take steps to eliminate terms in its employee gift-matching policy that expressly allows internal gatekeepers to discriminate against charities who engage in religious advocacy.

Unfortunately, Twitter is not alone. Many businesses prevent their employees of faith from giving to religious organizations that share their values. In fact, out of the 50 companies we scored on our Business Index, 40% maintain policies that prohibit or threaten to prohibit employees from making matching-gift contributions to certain non-profits because of their religious status or practices. And at least 34% restrict or threaten to restrict employee gifts based on charities’ religious beliefs.

[Read more about how corporations can foster a culture of giving here.]

Finally, while it is unclear whether Twitter’s employee training covers viewpoint diversity, or promotes divisive concepts like Critical Race Theory, Twitter should disclose such materials publicly through the Viewpoint Diversity Survey – which it declined to do in 2021.

The Solution

It’s clear that Twitter’s policies and practices are out of step with its founding commitment to free speech. As it stands on the turbulent brink of a leadership transition, the Blue Bird can make significant progress toward making its earlier mantra a reality. It should start by disclosing information about its policies and practices through participation in the 2022 Viewpoint Diversity Survey.

Additionally, Twitter should drastically rethink its so-called “content moderation” policies that have far too often resulted in viewpoint-based censorship. Twitter remains an important tool for people all over the world to express ideas, but its vague policies threaten its users’ employees’ and shareholder’s freedom of expression and belief.

Twitter—as well as other companies—can access our resources, which include model policies and best practices that provide a concrete roadmap for respecting viewpoint diversity and core civil liberties.


© 2022 Viewpoint Diversity Score. All rights reserved.

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