These early days of social media are times of novelty and paranoia. We delight in our new powers of connectivity and expression, we are enthralled with our new capacity to be heard and to influence, yet we worry about what all of it will cost us. We worry about our addictions to our screens and we worry about our privacy. We worry about what all of it is doing to our brains and we worry about what it’s doing to our kids.
All of it came so quickly and so cheaply. Much of it came for free. We like getting things for free, but common sense tells us that nothing this big and this powerful could ever truly be free. What happens if, say, Facebook, goes public, falters, falls under pressure to post big profits, and starts squeezing each user’s personal data for maximum returns? These hypothetical worries are getting less and less hypothetical. Cautionary voices tell us that when we don’t pay for the product, we are the product. But what does that mean, exactly?
It means, at the very least, this: your new powers can be revoked at any time for any reason. Twitter proved this Monday, when they noticed that a guy (journalist Guy Adams) was tweeting things about a business partner (NBC) that were critical and annoying (critical of NBC’s refusal to broadcast Olympics events live in the U.S., and encouraging folks to annoy NBC’s president directly by emailing him at Gary.firstname.lastname@example.org).
So Twitter suspended Guy Adams’ account. The backlash was swift and the account has since been reinstated. An apology, of sorts, has been issued. But the chilling fact remains—Twitter, which thousands of journalists use to spread their voices and which millions of users rely on for their news, censored a journalist because he offended their business partner. It was Twitter who noticed the offending tweet, Twitter who encouraged NBC to file a complaint about it, and Twitter who expedited the complaint and shut down the account. They say they are sorry that they did so. It was, they say, a violation of their internal policies. But their policies, like their platform, like your account, belong to Twitter. They can change or ignore their policies and they can remove your voice.
It’s not paranoia if it’s true. Twitter just made it true.
Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown