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There's an incredibly important difference between a corporation exercising its power to control speech on its platform and the US Federal Government exercising powers not granted to it by the laws of the United States to control speech in general.



Two things are are wrong with your statement:

1.) The government has made no request to impede upon the speech of the account owner, nor has the gov asked to shut it down the account. The gov asked for the account holder identity because they suspect (with reason) that someone is impersonating a federal agent through the account.

2.) Twitter invoked "free speech" to deny a reasonable request from the government. Right or not, I am mocking Twitter for acting like "champion of free speech" on one hand and then shutting down what they deem as "hate speech" (which the ACLU explicitly protects as free speech) on the other hand. Twitter can reinstate Milo's account at any time, yet they don't.

3.) We have just as much evidence to believe that the account holder is a fake federal employee as we do to believe they are real.


1a) You don't have to impede speech to be violating the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has ruled consistently that anonymity is protected under the First Amendment. https://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity

1b) Additionally, "impersonating a federal agent" is a flimsy reason to violate the First Amendment, especially when the only harm they're causing is making the government look bad. Typically "impersonating a federal agent" is used as a charge when the suspect has committed another crime while impersonating someone. The only crime here is making Trump look bad.

2) Get out of here with your false equivalency bs. Equating the government making a (likely) unconstitutional request to reveal the identity of a critic's Twitter account to Milo getting banned from Twitter for harassment is stupid. Hate speech is protected from the government, not from Twitter trying to create a safe platform for its users.

3) I thought everyone was innocent until proven guilty? The government has the burden of proof here, not some rando on Twitter.


On 2) parent is not equating the goverment's position on this case to Twitter's positions on Milo. He is equating Twitter's position on this case to Twitter's position on Milo's case, and noting that there is indeed a double-standard. Twitter's message seems to be: Speech must be free - but only if that speech is for left-wing causes.


Milo was not banned for "free speech". He was banned because he was harassing people, which he very much was doing. If you want to say Twitter was banning people solely for their beliefs, find a better example.

Additionally, protecting your speech from the government is not the same as giving you a platform on which to speak. Twitter protected their users under the Obama administration as well, they were not one of the tech companies that shared data with the NSA according to the Snowden leaks.


> He was banned because he was harassing people

No he wasn't. Twitter claimed he incited other people to harass LJ.

You are also correct that, very often, the freedoms granted to Americans concern the ability of government, specifically, to impede; Hence it is correct that twitter would act differently when the government involves itself.


His account was suspended many times. It wasn't just banned out of nowhere.

Twitter hasn't released information surrounding the ban. Just a brief, very general, statement. Makes sense to me they don't want to spread news that could be considered libel/slander.

If they say "Milo did this, this is why he was banned" now it's open to opinion. "Did this" is an opinion, and now suddenly Twitter says an individual did something.

Twitter gains nothing by clarifying (in the eyes of their lawyers) so they didn't. Why get sued over this?


> It wasn't just banned out of nowhere

This doesn't have much to do with my point - The final ban was based on LJ.

If you're going to take the "Descartes's Demon" defence, it works both ways:

We don't know if twitter banned Milo for other reasons, but we also don't know if "He was banned because he was harassing people" by the same measure.


> We don't know if twitter banned Milo for other reasons, but we also don't know if "He was banned because he was harassing people" by the same measure.

This is the exact point I'm trying to make. It doesn't matter why he was banned, Twitter can ban anyone.

As long as they didn't ban him because he was a part of a protected group, it's kosher.


> This is the exact point I'm trying to make

My original point simply points out Milo was not banned for personally harassing anyone, nothing else.


Then what are you trying to discuss?


>> He was banned because he was harassing people

> No he wasn't. Twitter claimed he incited other people to harass LJ.


Milo wasn't harassing anybody, except by the broadest and most over-sensitive possible interpretation of the already diluted word 'harassment'. Milo himself never did anything to anybody other than toss out singular, one-off quips about people. But people like to hold those with many followers responsible for what their followers say. While it's emotionally tempting to do so, it's also stupid, unworkable, and ultimately always serves as the go-to excuse to ban someone with the wrong views.


Twitter can ban anyone for anything they want.


And anyone can point out their hypocrisy.


It isn't hypocritical to choose who you want on your platform. Twitter has no obligation to be some neutral platform. They have never claimed this and have never tried to do this.


At Twitter's scale, they do have an obligation to be a neutral platform. They own the modern digital "town square". Things have changed since the old days.

Businesses have obligations beyond just barely staying within the law. Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's ethical.


A very astute observation, sir! And what a novel line of reasoning, I might add.


To my knowledge, no account was ever banned for critizing the Obama administration.


Several people were taken by the police for social/twitter threats against the (then Obama) President and such -- of the kind that we see 100 per day against Trump.


Do you have a reference for that? I highly doubt the rate of twitter threat investigations has changed between administrations.


Threatening POTUS is always an offence, and those law enforcement investigations have been happening for years under all presidents, under both parties.


> 43. The CBP Summons states that Twitter is “required” to “produce[] for inspection” “[a]ll records regarding the [T]witter account @ALT_USCIS to include, User names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and I.P. addresses.”

That doesn't really sound like they politely asked for it.

No one's making the argument that twitter is some bastion of free speech, but it seems reasonable to respect them for not complying to government strongarm tactics to criminalize their own users. The law is well on twitter's side on this one.

Comparing this to selectively banning trolls from their own business is just a false equivalence.


> That doesn't really sound like they politely asked for it.

How is it impolite? It's a legal request. Legal requests are always objective and to the point. You should argue objective facts and not whine because "its not polite enough"

>No one's making the argument that twitter is some bastion of free speech, but it seems reasonable to respect them for not complying to government strongarm tactics to criminalize their own users. The law is well on twitter's side on this one.

The government has not criminalizing anything. The account is deriving its authority from the fact that owner claims to be federal agent. The law is not on twitter's side. If the government suspects the impersonating of a federal agent they have the right to investigate.

If you say "Trust me I'm a federal agent." the government can ask for your identity. If someone says "trust me I'm a cop" you have the right to ask for their name and badge number.

The difference is that the account is claiming to be a federal agent. If the account were for example just an anonymous reporter who did not claim to be employed by the government, the government could not force twitter to reveal the identity.

>Comparing this to selectively banning trolls from their own business is just a false equivalence.

Twitter is explicitly citing "free speech" as their reason for denying a federal investigation.


> failure to comply with this summons will render you liable to proceedings in a U.S. District Court to enforce compliance with this summons as well as other sanctions.

It's not a request if you're threatening legal consequences, is it? I'm not "whining that it's not polite enough", it's clearly not a request at all but instead a strongarm tactic by an overreaching government agency.

> Twitter is explicitly citing "free speech" as their reason for denying a federal investigation.

Free speech != businesses can't censor whatever the hell they want from their own user created content. It's surprising to me how often people don't understand this. The comparison is absolutely a false equivalence in this case.

> If you stand up say "Trust me I'm a federal agent." the government can ask for your identity. If someone says "trust me I'm a cop" you have the right to ask for their name and badge number.

Yes, if you're doing something illegal - speaking out against government policy is not, hence Twitter's free speech argument.


In truth, free speech DOES mean business shouldn't censor arbitrarily on their own platform.

Free speech isn't just a quirky law to restrain the government. It's a social virtue which should all try to uphold, everywhere, because it makes our society better.

Free speech is comparable to honesty in this way, as a generalized social virtue.

The law against government censorship is to the principle of free speech as the law against perjury is to the principle of honesty.

Honesty and free speech are universal principles; violating them is often legal but generally not ethical.

This becomes more and more important as our public squares are increasingly moved on to online private platforms. Soon enough almost all communication will be digital, and the corporations will have more censoring power than the government does. At that time, it'll be pretty regretful that all these people have been upholding businesses' "rights" to silence anyone they please for any reason.


Obviously the context of the phrase "free speech" in my responses refers to the first amendment, not the general concept of free speech as a whole.

That said, as someone who has ran online businesses, I still don't agree with you that it's some universal principal that businesses should be held to. I've dealt with trolls of the same ilk as Milo Yiannopoulos, and you know what? When I think about how things went, it would have sucked up a hell of a lot less resources and time of myself, the business, and my other customers if I had simply censored them immediately.


You're saying Twitter isn't obligated by the law about free speech.

I'm saying that free speech is more than a law.

Perhaps you're referring to the first amendment, but I'm making the point that you can't limit this discussion to the first amendment.

And businesses should be held to universal principles, above and beyond the law. We should demand businesses' decisions be ethical, not simply legal.


> You're saying Twitter isn't obligated by the law about free speech.

The concept of freedom of speech is that pure speech is free from government-imposed consequences, but that private parties can and do choose what expressed ideas to support, oppose, reward, and punish. That's the fundamental concept of the marketplace of ideas.

The idea of freedom of speech is not that speech should be free of all consequences.

Now because businesses (especially those that are creations of government, like any that operate as juridical entities distinct from the constituent natural persons) are creatures of government and/or often depend on exercise of government powers, there is an argument for limiting the consequences that they can impose for speech in certain cases, especially when they are in monopolistic roles, and even more especially when that is in regard to key communications media, because those are in effect acts of government by other means.


Even by your (flawed) definition, Twitter has the free speech right to publish or not publish whatever it wants on its own site.


It's troubling that anyone would downvote your comment, and clearly several people have.

Free speech requires more than merely the government allowing it; if the underlying society does not permit it to be exercised, it is effectively defeated.


> Free speech requires more than merely the government allowing it

"Free Speech" in the context of the first amendment deals specifically with the role of government.


Obviously.

Equally obviously, I am referring to the bigger picture. If the government is restrained, but society ostracizes, freedom of speech is effectively useless. The law is the minimum, not the optimum.


> The law is not on twitter's side.

Could you cite the law you're thinking of? Simply claiming to be a federal agent to set the context for a discussion is very different from claiming to be one and then acting under the authority of that pretended identity.


Sure: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/33/931

> Any claimant or representative of a claimant who knowingly and willfully makes a false statement or representation for the purpose of obtaining a benefit or payment under this chapter shall be guilty of a felony...

or alternatively: http://www3.ce9.uscourts.gov/jury-instructions/node/508

The threshold of "obtaining a benefit" or "obtained thing of value" is pretty low. Is a massive Twitter following a benefit? Is positive press coverage or access a benefit or valuable?

Alternatively, this person is a federal employee and they've been actively working against their boss and employer (aka POTUS).

Either way, the outcome isn't good for them.


Your first link is from Title 33, Chapter 18, which is titled "LONGSHORE AND HARBOR WORKERS’ COMPENSATION". The words "federal" and "agent" appear nowhere in it, so... I think not. Maybe this is what you're looking for (as referred to in your second link):

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/912

> The threshold of "obtaining a benefit" or "obtained thing of value" is pretty low. Is a massive Twitter following a benefit? Is positive press coverage or access a benefit or valuable?

Absolutely ridiculous. If you want to play these sorts of word games, though, I might point out that this person is not pretending (or not) "to be an officer or employee acting under the authority of the United States or any department, agency or officer thereof". They are not pretending (or not) to act under any authority. Anyone can post whatever they like on Twitter (at Twitter's discretion and according to their TOS).

In other words, it would be illegal to flash a fake badge at someone and then tell them you'll take them to jail if they don't follow you on Twitter, but that's not what this is.

> Alternatively, this person is a federal employee and they've been actively working against their boss and employer (aka POTUS).

On their own time and using their own device(s), presumably. Is this illegal?


Oops, you're right on the first link. Sorry about that.

> On their own time and using their own device(s), presumably. Is this illegal?

Since they're discussing official matters, it's probably illegal. Federal employees are always covered by rules concerning their engagement with the press and public communications.

Just like if you spoke on behalf of your company and/or leaked internal information, they could definitely sue you and potentially get you arrested (depending on the details). When your employer are the Feds, they can usually skip the "sue you" step.


Right now, the account includes this in its "about" text:

> Not the views of DHS or USCIS

Whether or not that's always been there, I think it's probably always been true for this account. It's somebody saying "I work at <agency>, and here are some opinions and publicly available information". So really all they're guilty of is being publicly negative about their employer. That's not illegal for employees of corporations, and I'd be really surprised if it was illegal for employees of the government (but I haven't looked into it).

Of course, corporations and the government might like to fire employees who do this, and they'd be within their rights to do so (I think, in general) but if said employees are anonymous then they don't know who to fire, and if speaking freely is perfectly legal then they have no grounds to compel Twitter (or whoever) to unmask the account.


In most roles of federal law enforcement and/or the intelligence community, you aren't allowed to speak to the press or make public statements without express consent of your communications team. You don't get to "talk negatively about your employer" and you sign agreements to that effect going in.

And it doesn't take sharing classified information to get in trouble. Pointing someone to public information validates them as accurate - including whatever conjecture included - and counts.

I spent time in the intelligence community. Your opinion and my opinion don't matter.. only the law, the agreements in place, and the tenacity of those who choose to enforce them and to what degree.


> only the law, the agreements in place

These are the only things I'm interested in. My personal opinions aside, I'm genuinely curious whether the government has a legitimate legal leg to stand on here. The reason I'm still replying is that none of those you've suggested have been terribly convincing.

Whether anonymous political speech by someone claiming to be an employee of the federal government but not acting in an official capacity is or is not a violation of the Hatch Act or any other applicable law (dubious) or any agreement they may have signed as a condition of employment is one question. Whether the fact that this individual has claimed anonymously to be a federal employee can compel Twitter to release their personal details on the basis of an assumption that either or both of the aforementioned factors (laws, agreements) will apply to them is another question entirely. While they're anonymous, how would you know which agreement they signed, if any? How would you know whether they are actually a federal employee?

"Tenacity" aside, this seems like the most plausible theory yet, but still a stretch. But I am not a lawyer.

edit: this update is relevant: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/04/07...


1 is bullshit. Anonymity is baked into first amendment protections. The political nature of govt's request is blatant.


>Anonymity is baked into first amendment protections.

Not when you're claiming authority as a federal agent.


Nothing says federal twitter account like "Alt [Emoji] Immigration" and "Not the views of DHS or USCIS" (at bio)


Yeah, nothing says "claiming authority" like explicitly calling yourself "Alt". /s


They have explicitly labeled themselves as 'rouge USCIS agents' and said they are real in multiple tweets.

It's not the same as making a "fake steve jobs" twitter account where everybody knows you're not really steve jobs. They actually claim to be subversive workers within the agency.


> It's not the same as making a "fake steve jobs" twitter account where everybody knows you're not really steve jobs

First, let's dispel the absurdity that "ICE official with a critical Twitter account" == "impersonate a law enforcement officer/agency".

There's no impersonation. Everybody knows that @ALT_* is not an official channel. The entire account namespace was created specifically as a protest mechanism.

Government's claims regarding IMPERSONATION are baseless as a pure and simple matter of fact.

> They actually claim to be subversive workers within the agency.

Could the federal government have cause to fire these employees for their political speech? Perhaps.

Should we, the people, grant the government have right to infringe upon private company's property rights in order to settle petty shop politics? NO.

Government can be as petty an employer as it wants. But this ISN'T impersonation, and we SHOULDN'T sacrifice OUR liberties and property rights for the sake of fucking petty shop politics.

If law enforcement wants to track down and fire people who disagree with the chief executive, they're free to waste my tax dollars doing so. But unless they can show substantive evidence of ACTUAL impersonation, they can conduct their witch hunt without barging into our homes and offices.


So if I say I'm James Mattis and I think Trump is a dork I'm violating the law? Come on, no judge is gonna buy that nonsense. It's a far different to talk smack on twitter under an alt account (an UNVERIFIED account even) than it is to actually say things under the color of law like ordering a contingent of military to fire upon civilians while I'm saying I am James Mattis Sec of Defense. See the difference?


>The gov asked for the account holder identity because they suspect (with reason) that someone is impersonating a federal agent through the account.

I wasn't familiar with this account previously, but I'm not seeing any reason to suspect impersonation of a federal agent. What exactly are you citing here?


Notably, Milo Yiannopolis hasn't been sentenced to "compulsory psychiatric care" by the court system...

https://twitter.com/MoscowTimes/status/849413473813639168

And neither will I be for making this post.


Don't let the worst be the friend of the bad


While this is an important distinction, corporate censorship is a real social problem when the corporations control the platforms most people use to speak.

A circumstance where a single entity controls the conversations of billions is unparalleled, and our practices need to be re-evaluated.


Milo Y had the entire platform of breitbart. Nobody was really silencing the guy, other than his own need to needle people and push limits.


Remember, though, Milo wasn't banned for his views. He was banned for repeatedly violating the ToS.


There have been many right-wing accounts banned that were much better behaved than Milo. Twitter definitely censors based on progressive American sensitivities:

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/silence-frogs-why-twitter-censoring...


Is that article some kind of joke? Using flowery academic language to defend what basically amounts to children posting trolling memes that make fun of fat people.

Also, it did not cite a single source backing up your claims. Can you try to be a bit more specific?


There are countless "liberals" who have called for the murder of straight white men on Twitter (as a very simple example see the #KillAllMen hashtag). They weren't banned, despite being against the fabled "terms of service". But if someone criticises a feminist or other "liberal" group, they are likely to get banned.

To pretend there isn't a clear bias by Twitter is just being disingenuous. I say this as someone who very left on most issues, its quite depressing seeing everything descend into authoritarianism.


> But if someone criticises a feminist or other "liberal" group, they are likely to get banned.

Dude, have you been on Twitter? This happens constantly and accounts aren't banned.


No, I've never been on Twitter. I make up all of my opinions on the spot. It's not like Twitter's "Trust and Safety Council" is made up predominantly of "liberals"[1], and their entire purpose is to decide what accounts should be banned and how the process of "keeping people safe" should be done (thus introducing massive bias, especially since many of the members have shown that even disagreements are considered some level of harassment).

Everything is going great.

[1]: https://about.twitter.com/safety/council


Why do you even care? This isn't some kind of liberal conspiracy. It is people who lead a company deciding what they want their platform to be.

If you want a platform of alt-right trolls go on the_donald or 4chan.


> Why do you even care?

I honestly don't care all that much about Twitter. If Twitter wants to run their website into the ground by pandering to a vocal minority, that's their business (I've never liked Twitter anyway and preferred GNU Social et al). It's just a bit frustrating when people go full Orwell and suddenly redefine "harassment" to mean "disagreement" and various other definition changes.

> If you want a platform of alt-right trolls go on the_donald or 4chan.

Ah yes, I don't like a certain group of liberals because they act in an authoritarian way and therefore I'm part of the "alt-right". That makes perfect sense.


> It's just a bit frustrating when people go full Orwell and suddenly redefine "harassment" to mean "disagreement" and various other definition changes.

It's tough. So, at the end of the day, Twitter doesn't want certain content on their platform. Milo was determined to be that content. Twitter didn't say he was harassing people, they were extremely vague about it.

> Ah yes, I don't like a certain group of liberals because they act in an authoritarian way and therefore I'm part of the "alt-right". That makes perfect sense.

I didn't say you were part of the alt-right: just that if you want the kind of stuff that Milo was spewing those are the places for it, not Twitter (by their own decision.)

> GNU Social

It's not like if it has "GNU" in the title it's instantly a completely-free platform.


"But if someone criticises a feminist or other "liberal" group, they are likely to get banned."

For you to say this, you have clearly never been on Twitter.



> I say this as someone who very left on most issues, its quite depressing seeing everything descend into authoritarianism.

I appreciate your even-mindedness. Question: do you honestly not see leftism as naturally decaying into authoritarianism?


There is this weird effect in American politics where each wing considers the other to be the authoritarian one.

The American right loves its military industrial complex, its police crackdowns, its bank bailouts, its manifest destiny, and so on. These are not left wing institutions in creed or membership. You could ask the same question: do you not see rightism (ingroup loyalty, moral purity, respect for authority) as naturally decaying into authoritarianism?


> There is this weird effect in American politics where each wing considers the other to be the authoritarian one.

It is weird, in a way, yes. I think, though, that when you think from each side's point of view, it makes sense that that's the case.

> The American right loves its military industrial complex, its police crackdowns, its bank bailouts, its manifest destiny, and so on. These are not left wing institutions in creed or membership.

I think you are painting with too broad a brush. There is far more nuance in what is considered "the American right" than you imply. Five minutes on the Internet and you can find people who are obviously considered "on the right" who don't agree with any of those things.

> You could ask the same question: do you not see rightism (ingroup loyalty, moral purity, respect for authority) as naturally decaying into authoritarianism?

I would ask you to more clearly define rightism, because those three things are just as prevalent on the left, if not moreso.


> You could ask the same question: do you not see rightism (ingroup loyalty, moral purity, respect for authority) as naturally decaying into authoritarianism?

Respect for authority is _by definition_ authoritarian and is completely separate from the left-right axis. As for loyalty and moral purity those seem more like talking points than actual political views.


Specifically what terms did he violate?

Twitter's only statement is that some of Milo's followers behaved badly. If they followed this rule consistently they'd ban a lot of popular left leaning accounts to.

Instead, left-leaning accounts that directly violate the Terms of Service by doxxing others (Shanley publishing Milo's cell phone number) and advocate for violence (various self-styled 'antifa' accounts) remain up.

Yes, legally you have no right to free speech on a non-government platform. But as a Twitter user - and a left leaning person - I'd rather not have my platform dictate who I can and can't listen to.


The story of Milo and the terms he broke has been widely publicized. He broke those terms, and that is not in question. Other people's behavior has absolutely nothing to do with Milo being banned for his behavior.


You'e new here. Generally on HN, someone asking for a reference is responded to with a reference. If it's not in question - it is BTW - you'll be able to find one.

> Other people's behavior has absolutely nothing to do with Milo being banned for his behavior.

Indeed, it simply calls into question why Twitter seems to ignore the Terms of Service for some users while apply it to other users for the actions of their followers.


> Remember, though, Milo wasn't banned for his views.

Or, he was, and the ToS raised as public justification.


Then why haven't they banned the thousands of other users with more extreme views who avoid breaching the ToS?


Because no one listens to them. There's no point dirtying your hands on people who are screaming into the void.


Or, he did break the ToS, and that was that.

Richard Spencer is still on Twitter, despite being an actual, self identified Nazi.


that selective enforcement happened because of his views


Is it hard work shifting those goalposts so often?


?


No, it didn't.


Not just not granted, rather even, explicitly forbidden.


That difference lasts only as long as it takes for federal interests to infiltrate that corporation under the guise of normal employees and board members.


Please tell me more.




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