Twitter is Sending Legal Warnings About Islam Tweets
Running a globally successful social network such as Twitter can be tricky business. On the one hand, you want people to think you are the ‘free speech wing of the free speech party’, yet on the other hand there are some complicated international laws to navigate.
In case you are one of those tedious types who thinks it’s even remotely interesting to remind people that “Twitter is a private company and they can do what they want”, save your breath. I know.
Now that’s out of the way, perhaps we can talk about the implications of Twitter’s approach to free expression. Private business or otherwise, we should not underestimate the influence Twitter has on politics, news and society. In fact, what is said on Twitter often IS the news. And as a result, we should be able to discuss whether a leading facilitator of global communication supports free expression or does not.
Author and friend of the Godless Spellchecker Podcast, Michael Sherlock may be firmly on the side of ‘not’ at this moment in time. As posted via his Twitter account on the 10th of October, Michael received a rather concerning email from Twitter about one of his tweets:
The potentially ‘illegal’ tweet in question is the below link to a provocative Sherlock piece on Islam’s Prophet Muhammad:
As Michael Sherlock told Conatus News:
The piece in question explores the possibility that the Prophet Muhammad may have suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy. Whilst I concede the title of the piece, ‘Walk Like an Epileptic Wife-Beating Paedophile Prophet’, is provocative, the piece itself is merely a research article. It even begins with a caveat to ensure Muslims are not unfairly treated for simply being Muslim, a caveat I frequently make. I believe that no person should be discriminated against for their religion, or lack thereof. However, I also believe that beliefs should not be shielded from scrutiny, criticism, and even mockery
Michael Sherlock has since indicated he will be launching legal action against Twitter in response, and has started a GoFundMe page for support.
Broadcaster Kenan Malik also appeared to have received similar emails from Twitter HQ, as he revealed in a number of tweets:
I reached out to the creator behind the excellent ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon strips who told me they themselves have been the recipient of email warnings about ‘illegal’ tweets. They told me: “At first I thought it was just funny. Too absurd to be disturbing. I’ve been writing J&M for 13 years, and suddenly it’s illegal? But the closer I look at it, the more sinister it appears”. The creator of J&M believes that the suggestions to ‘voluntarily remove the content’ and to consider seeking ‘legal council’ is an attempt to “intimidate”.
It seems likely that Twitter is just responding to reports of illegal activity with automated emails. It’s unlikely that any of this may result in actual legal action, however the cost is a chilling effect on free speech.
Islam is an especially tricky topic with which to produce art, satire or criticism. Emails of this kind containing such alarming language may convince people it’s probably safer to bite their tongue on this subject altogether. Especially at a time when the UK is making a record number of arrests for online speech.
I will be keeping an eye out for any further developments and reporting on them here.