Information is not only a right, but a necessity here in the United States, especially as we tackle the litany of issues that have befallen society in the 21st century.
America has long been researching ways in which we can mitigate mass shootings, which seem to be increasing in frequency as of late. These horrific and terrifying acts of violence are both vicious and mentally unnerving, which has put a distinct emphasis on discovering a solution that both addresses the issue and continues to promote the rights of our citizens.
This hasn’t been easy, of course, and the social media landscape has made discussing possible paths to peace nearly impossible.
One of the nation’s foremost experts on gun violence, Dr. John Lott, found this out the hard way after Twitter locked his account by exploiting an arbitrary rule of the platform. Lott lashed out at the social media giant in an op-ed for New York Daily News.
I am the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, whose account Twitter locked because it tweeted a link to a Daily News article that I wrote about Twitter locking my personalaccount. Twitter informs me that the account was locked because the News article contains quotes from the New Zealand mass killer, and New Zealand and Australia have laws against sharing the manifestos of shooters.
As a Twitter representative emailed me: “Due to the safety of Twitter users and regulations abroad, Twitter does not allow linking to content that includes excerpts of manifestos of mass shooters.” Earlier automated responses from Twitter had offered no such information, with the explanation field left blank. I was able to use a connection to ask what was happening, but other victims of Twitter’s censorship may not even get an explanation.
Here’s where it gets a bit wonky.
The explanation seems simple enough, but there is a problem. Lots of other accounts have tweeted a link to that same News piece, including the New York Daily News itself to its over 700,000 followers. More than 80 other accounts retweeted the link, some with many more followers than the CPRC. But none of these other accounts have been locked or had posts removed for linking to the article.
The Twitter representative’s only possible explanation was that someone “reported” the CPRC tweet, but that no one reported the other accounts’ tweets. “Specifically, the new Australian law prompted Twitter to take a very aggressive approach on materials related to Christchurch. Companies can be fined up to 10% of their annual revenue.” The Twitter representative told me that once someone reports a tweet that violated those countries’ rules, they were powerless to ignore the complaint because the Australian and New Zealand governments would have been alerted to the violation.
The issue here is that Dr. Lott was sharing information that could help to solve this complex and sinister problem.
Without a willingness to address these issues with a full arsenal of available statistics and insight, no matter the source, we are handicapping our discussions in a nation founded on the concept of free speech.