In 140 characters or less, millions of people around the world divulge tidbits of their lives, careers, dreams, and aspirations on the highly popular micro-blogging site Twitter. Some people turn to Twitter as a means to connect with their friends and families, others take advantage of the service to promote their work, and some utilize the network to spread their cause and make their voice heard.
As with all areas of the Internet, there are some who use Twitter to communicate hate, carelessly sharing racist and derogatory tweets publicly.
When you tweet something publicly, you invite anyone and everyone on the Internet to publish your tweets, a practice that recently highlighted the racism erupting on Twitter after Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers was one pitch short of a perfect game. The Dallas Observer, for example, created a post dedicated to showcasing the racism and hate that so often resides on Twitter.
Disclaimers like “retweets don’t equal endorsements” or “tweets are my own” do not prevent your tweets from being used against you. What you tweet will inevitably be associated with what you do, where you work, and what you aspire to be. In an age defined by social interaction, tweets hold just as much weight as a text message.
The only difference is that tweets are visible to the entire world, online and offline. The second you hit the “tweet” button, you lose ownership of your words and your opinions reflected on Twitter become the property of Twitter, the Internet, and even the Library of Congress.
While the speed at which news travels on Twitter has transformed the ways in which we view law enforcement, disaster relief efforts, and political protests, it can just as easily lead to the rapid escalation of racism.
This was most recently seen in France. Following the outbreak of tweets including the hashtag #unbonjuif, or “a good Jew,” Twitter agreed to remove content from the site, and for the first time, suspended an account in response to a government request.
Arguing that anti-semitic tweets violate the restrictions in place against hate speech in France, the French advocacy group Union of Jewish Students (UEJF) also demanded that the names of those responsible for the derogatory tweets be identified by Twitter.
Twitter, which is an American company, defends its policy not to release the names by citing the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. However, while Twitter has yet to release the names of the users responsible for the tweets in question, a $50 million lawsuit could challenge Twitter’s policy and commitment to the protection of free speech.
UEJF President Jonathan Hayoun makes his case, arguing that Twitter has “resolved to protect the anonymity of the authors of these tweets and have made themselves accomplices to racists and anti-Semites.”
Whether or not Twitter decides to release the names of those involved in the perpetuation of hate speech, this should act as yet another warning to all users: Be careful what you tweet, because it could be used against you.