Twitter Just Put A Policy In Place That Is SCARY For Free Speech Defenders

People are seen as silhouettes as they check mobile devices whilst standing against an illuminated wall bearing Twitter Inc.'s logo in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. Twitter Inc. may be preparing to raise its character limit for tweets to the thousands from the current 140, a person with knowledge of the matter said. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Well, it’s official: Twitter is now using algorithms to take action against people who appear to be abusing the social media platform and using it to harass others, per Weasel Zippers.

This is a slippery slope.

Check it out:

This proactive step could relieve users who’ve been targeted for abuse of some of the need to file individual reports for every threatening tweet they get. In a blog post, Twitter’s vice president of engineering, Ed Ho, wrote that the company’s software will flag likely harassers—users that regularly tweet at accounts that don’t follow them back, for instance—and block those users’ tweets from being seen by anyone but their own followers for a set period of time. “We aim to only act on accounts when we’re confident, based on our algorithms, that their behavior is abusive,” Ho wrote, promising that the company will regularly update and improve the new feature as it learns what works.

Condemning harassment is a good thing, but once you begin to rely on algorithms and technology to make that call, the game changes.

Slate‘s article continues:

If Twitter can calibrate its program properly, preemptive flagging may be the boost its existing moderators need to address harassment faster and more effectively—though it’s likely to raise concerns among people concerned about free-speech implications. Blanket muting and restrictive notification filters are blunt instruments that can block out the good stuff with the bad. Targeting repeat, committed offenders is harder to do, but, by monitoring problem users before they can amplify their abuse, Twitter’s new approach is way more likely to punish harassers instead of restricting the Twitter experience of their victims.

Free speech is delicate, and internet censorship is not a far-off concern to be had.