A-twitter over Twitter

Let's try free speech

Twitter blocked a news story by Greg Bishop on grounds that it might be dangerous or misleading. - PHOTO BISHOPONAIR.COM
Photo bishoponair.com
Twitter blocked a news story by Greg Bishop on grounds that it might be dangerous or misleading.

I once worked for a company that published lies.

First, there was "Give Piece A Chance," an expose on Second Amenders who thought finances shouldn't be an impediment to constitutional rights and so distributed firearms and ammo to the homeless. Then came "Xtreme Cuisine," a discourse involving a secret supper club where well-heeled diners enjoyed salads of saguaro cactus and sausage crafted from flanks of wild hippopotamus, plus monkey brain stew and tenderloin of Bichon Frise.

All lies, and published by a respectable, or at least profitable, newspaper with a flair for pranks. There were no pugs-taste-better-than-pigs banquets, nor did do-gooders supply the destitute with Glocks. Folks back then were gullible. In addition to dozens either condemning or praising street-level gun giveaways, a handful called a fake hotline seeking free firearms. A producer for "60 Minutes II" was put in touch with the paper's editor, who posed as Pete Whippit, founder of Arm The Homeless, and penned a truthful follow-up piece titled "Disarm The Clueless."

Good fun, maybe, back when rumors and falsehoods didn't spread like they do these days. Stakes are higher now – the truth, everyone knows, is sacred. This is why we have outfits like Twitter.

On Thanksgiving eve, Greg Bishop, who works both for WMAY radio and The Center Square, an internet media outlet, reported for Center Square that a state House investigative committee established to probe corruption allegations involving Speaker Michael Madigan, had released documents received from ComEd, which is paying $200 million to settle bribery accusations.

It was straight news delivered in a straight way, with hardly any adjectives or adverbs. Bishop was first to report the release of documents, and his story included comment from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The story also included a link to the documents to help the curious decide for themselves whether the most powerful man in Illinois government is a crook.

Bishop's scoop did not pass muster with Twitter. "Warning: This link may be unsafe," read a warning label that showed up instead of Bishop's story when would-be readers clicked on the link in his tweet. "The link you are trying to access has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially spammy or unsafe." Among other things, Twitter warned that the link to a story about Statehouse corruption might include "violent or misleading content that could lead to real-world harm."

That might be one way to increase readership. "Banned in Boston," after all, has long been a way to boost books to bestseller lists. On the other hand, who wants to be lumped in with Donald Trump, whose tweets, also, have been blocked by Twitter on the grounds that what the president had to say about the November election "might be misleading about an election or other civic process." It is a good thing that he's the rare politician who fibs.

I don't regularly read The Center Square, a nonprofit that leans conservative and won't disclose donors, but lots of other people do. For good or ill, papers throughout Illinois publish the outfit's content, and The Center Square, for good or ill, has a desk in the Statehouse press room, which is supposed to be reserved for respectable, objective news operations like Illinois Times. To their credit, legislative leaders have refused Bishop credentials on the grounds that he works for an organization driven by an agenda.

Chris Krug, president and publisher of The Center Square, says that 100 or so Center Square tweets recently have been blocked by Twitter. It is not, per se, censorship, Krug rightly notes: Twitter, as a corporation, is free to allow or ban anything it desires. "I'm not mad at Twitter, I'm just confused by Twitter," Krug tells me. "Twitter took a story down that was a well-written story that advanced a story that was years in the making."

While The Center Square sits in Twitter's penalty box, trustworthy media companies such as The New York Times have free reign, even when promoting fibs. The 1619 Project, which earned the Times a Pulitzer Prize last year, is one example. A central premise of the endeavor, that the Revolutionary War was fought to preserve slavery in America, has been credibly discredited by credible historians. Making matters worse, a fact-checker for the paper was warned prior to publication that the premise wasn't accurate. Making matters even worse, the paper, after winning the Pulitzer, edited the story, without alerting anyone, to soften the discredited claim that colonists went to war to keep slaves. Founding fathers, if they were alive today, might have a legitimate libel suit. For more information, go to #1619Project on Twitter, where supporters and critics of a flawed newspaper story throw rocks at each other.

And pass the hippopotamus.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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