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Twitter panel addresses whether it has a ‘progressive liberal bias’ and whether it will continue to encourage ‘free expression’

by on 9th March 2018

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey led a Twitter panel on a Periscope live stream on Thursday afternoon to discuss Twitter’s approach to safeguarding “health” on its platform.

Jack Dorsey claimed during the stream that devising a health metric to address the problems of “safety abuse, misinformation and manipulation” is Twitter’s “number one priority as a company right now.”

The live stream is likely a reaction to criticism several social networks have received in recent months about misinformation, “Russian interference” in the U.S. election and illegal content.

The event took the theme of a live Q&A and the panel addressed numerous challenging questions and topics, ranging from accusations of a “progressive liberal bias” and “censorship” to whether Twitter is or will continue to be a platform for “free expression.”

The accusation of “progressive liberal bias” was pounced upon by CEO Jack Dorsey around 8 minutes into the stream and he forwarded the question to Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s Legal, Policy and Safety Lead.

“I’m not going to be able to deny the fact that we definitely have a lot of employees who have particular political views at the company. That is probably true not just of Twitter but of our industry and of Silicon Valley,” said Vijaya Gadde.

“I do think that one of the things that we’ve always tried to focus on as a company is to be as impartial as we can be when making decisions and not look at content or political viewpoints when we’re assessing behaviour on the platform.”

“That is really the distinction we’ve tried to draw, is this behaviour violating our policies versus is this a viewpoint we might agree or disagree with.”

Vijaya Gadde went onto say “I know we are very much accused of censorship and bias” and that she believes its important Twitter “constantly assesses [its] work.”

In a later question on censorship, Jack Dorsey made specific reference to “minimizing conservative voices.” He stated “We don’t want to tell you that we’re fixing this without actually fixing it. And that includes all the abuse, and misinformation, and safety concerns that we’re trying to address but also the concerns of bias, and censorship and minimizing conservative voices.”

The live stream took place two weeks after the social network was accused of a widespread “purge” by its conservative users. In response, Twitter asserted it’s “apolitical” and is acting against accounts which violate its terms of service.

The social network also stated targeted accounts will remain locked until verified by phone.

On the topic of customer service bias, Jack Dorsey proclaimed “Often times we’ve taken actions on tweets or accounts and not explained why…[and] In some cases we weren’t communicating to reporters…to the violator of the terms of service…to the world.”

The topic of how Twitter handles employees with biases was also discussed. “We try to do a lot of trainings for our employees on cultural context and understanding bias,” said Vijaya Gadde.

“Every employee at Twitter must go through bias training as well…and for our employees specifically that are working on our customer service teams, we do again cultural trainings because so much of understanding in trying to avoid bias is understanding the cultural context of things that may be happening all around the world.”

On the topic of disciplinary action for employees continuing to show bias, Vijaya Gadde stated “We make sure they do this ongoing training and if they’re found to continue to have bias then we do take disciplinary action when appropriate.”

The panel also announced its intention to extend verification — which is currently demonstrated by assigning blue ticks to verified users — to all Twitter users.

“The intention is to open verification to everyone and to do it in a way that’s scalable and that we’re not in the way and people can verify more facts about themselves and we don’t have to be the judge or imply any bias on our part,” said Jack Dorsey.

He also cited the U.S. elections as a specific area of focus to “make sure people see credibility in the U.S. elections around candidates.”

On the extent to which Twitter’s proposed measures around monitoring “health” on its platform will impact free expression, Vijaya Gadde stated “…we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how to encourage the type of content that is permitted by our rules, and the notion of health as an over-arching framework will help us to encourage those types of behavior and hopefully allow us to continue to be a platform that encourages free expression.”

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