Twitter’s “safety mode” could protect politicians from harassment. It could also silence critics.

But the social network still debates whether those protections should extend to politicians, who free speech advocates say could use the features to silence critics.

The dynamic highlights a tricky trade-off for platforms: Often, the same tools that could be used to protect public officials from violent or hateful messages could be used to muzzle dissenting views.

The issue crystallized over the weekend after a prominent health campaigner, Laura Marstonreported being automatically blocked by the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosicampaign account.

New Republic writer Nathalie Shure:

This decision appears to conflict with Twitter’s stated policies.

In September, Twitter announcement it was testing a new “safety mode” that users could enable, which “temporarily blocks accounts for seven days for using potentially harmful language – such as slurs or hateful remarks – or sending replies or repetitive and uninvited mentions”.

Article 19, a leading digital rights group, called it “another step in the right direction to make Twitter a safe place to participate in the public conversation without fear of abuse”.

At the time, the spokesperson Trenton Kennedy told The Technology 202 that Twitter would “initially exclude official political organizations, elected officials, and political candidates” from using the feature, citing concerns about “the silencing potential of counter-speech.”

Twitter spokeswoman Tatiana Britt confirmed Monday that Pelosi’s campaign account was granted access to the feature “by mistake” and that access “has since been revoked.”

The company said its policy remained the same as it continued to test and expand who had access to the feature: that politicians and political groups would not be allowed to use them.

“Throughout the beta, we will explore ways to assess the impact of the feature before releasing it to everyone,” Britt said in a statement to The Technology 202.

The rollout of Twitter’s “safety mode” has reignited debate over whether officials should be able to block users from seeing and reacting to their posts online.

Kate Ruanewho at the time was senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, told me in September that while the security feature “could be a really good thing for most Twitter users,” the officials who would use would raise concerns about cutting off citizens. far from the information provided by their heads of government and unable to respond.

If politicians have used the tools to block reactions to controversial decisions, she said, it “triggers constitutional scrutiny and is likely to fail constitutional scrutiny.”

But online safety tools can be crucial for women and people of color, especially those in the public sphere who often face a deluge of hateful and threatening messages online.

Free speech advocates have already won major legal victories against politicians who block users. Most prominently, a federal judge ruled in 2018 this president donald trump violated the Constitution by blocking users on his personal Twitter account, which the judge said constituted a “designated public forum” protected by First Amendment rights of citizens.

In Pelosi’s case, the account that automatically blocked users was a campaign account, not his official Congressional account.

“It is perfectly constitutional for election candidates to use blocking tools while campaigning because campaign speech is not subject to the limitations of the First Amendment,” Alex Abdodirector of litigation at the Knight First Amendment Institute, told me.

He added: “But it would be a shame if these tools were used not only to block harassment, but also to silence political disagreements.”

On the other hand, by preventing politicians from using new security features, it exposes them to more online harassment and vitriol.

While Twitter is sticking to its policy for now, it notably declined to say whether it would continue to block politicians from using the tools after it finishes testing them.

If Twitter backtracks, it could lead to more legal challenges against public officials who use the features. If not, politicians will have one less way to try to escape harassment on the site.

FBI contract to monitor social media raises surveillance concerns

The FBI’s new contract to purchase 5,000 licenses of Babel X software from Babel Street is worth up to $27 million and appears to be one of the largest contracts for the software by a civilian agency, Aaron Schaffer reports for The Cybersecurity 202.

This follows criticism that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies failed to understand social media posts that appeared to foreshadow the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. While it’s unclear what exactly the contract entails, the contract documents provide a blueprint for the FBI’s aspirations for the technology. Critics of government surveillance say they are raising red flags.

“It turns out that people dismissed as paranoid because they thought Big Brother was watching everything they said on social media weren’t paranoid after all,” said Greg Nojeimsenior counsel and co-director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Security and Surveillance Project.

Lawmakers are already worriedwith the rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, telling Aaron he wants an FBI briefing on the matter. The FBI, Babel Street and IT provider Panamerica Computing did not respond to requests for comment on the contract.

Musk bought a major stake in Twitter. Current and former employees are worried.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has bought a 9.2% stake in the social media giant, becoming its biggest shareholder weeks after he questioned the platform’s commitment to free speech, my colleagues Taylor Telford, Faiz Siddiqui and Elizabeth Dwoskin reported Monday. This decision sent shock waves through the company.

“Musk’s surprise move sparked instant speculation among current and former employees that Twitter, which has been mired in management turmoil following a battle with activist shareholders and [former CEO Jack] Dorsey’s sudden departure last year was about to get even more chaotic, according to people familiar with the inside conversations who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive topics,” according to the report.

They added: “Some feared that freewheeling Musk, who has promoted coronavirus misinformation and decried ‘censorship,’ was pushing Twitter in a libertarian direction, away from blocking or restricting accounts that cause social harm. .” Twitter declined to answer questions about Musk.

Trump’s Truth Social hits the turmoil

Former president donald trump‘s Truth Social is showing signs of struggling.

The company’s technology and product development chiefs in less than a year “resigned from their leadership roles at a critical time for the company’s smartphone app release plans, according to two sources close to of the company”, Reuters ‘ Helen Coster and Julia Love reported. And according to Politics Meridith McGraw and Emilie Birnbauma third manager, legal director Lori HeyerBednaralso resigned.

“Trump was upset by the state of his social media company, Truth Social, and is considering major shake-ups at the company, including board positions at Truth Social’s parent company, Trump Media and Technology. Group,” according to Politico.

The company had said it planned to be fully operational by the end of March, but it’s still struggling with technical issues and a long waiting list of users unable to access the application.

  • President of the Federal Communications Commission Jessica Rosenworcel adds Narda Jonesformerly of the White House, to his team as chief of staff, and Priscille Delgado Argeris, formerly of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, as Chief Legal Counsel. Acting Chief of Staff, Travis Litmanwill leave soon.
  • Technology trade group NCTA has hired Kyle Dixonformerly of WarnerMedia; Jeff Freeland, formerly of the White House; and Becky Tangren, formerly of CableLabs; to its legal and government relations teams, and promoted Lee Friedman to the Deputy Chief of Federal Legislative Affairs.
  • Alex BorniakovDeputy Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, joined Cat Zakrzewski at a Washington Post Live event Tuesday at 9 a.m. to discuss his country’s efforts to pressure tech companies to come to Ukraine’s aid.

ThisThat’s all for today — thank you so much for joining us! Be sure to tell others to subscribe to the Technology 202 here. Get in touch with advice, comments or greetings on Twitter Where E-mail.

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