Twitter founder calls for ‘new era of trust’

Scruffy millionaire: Having made millions Stone now takes an annual salary of just $30k. © PA

Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, has launched an attack on fake news and says that the site needs a ‘trust button’. Is he right, or would that create more problems than it solves?

The number of active Twitter users exceeds the entire world population of a thousand years ago. One in seven human beings use Facebook. A majority of American adults now get most of their news from social media, whose reach and influence now far exceeds that of the BBC or The New York Times.

That makes the decisions of a small number of people vital. One of those people is Biz Stone, the 42 year-old co-founder of Twitter.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Stone explained his fear over how the ‘big tech’ Silicon Valley companies have started to become ‘as reviled as big tobacco or big oil’.

The interview comes after a difficult year for Twitter. Its share price has fallen from a high of $69 to just $16. It was put up for sale last year after a boardroom row. Several huge companies, including Walt Disney and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, were interested, but all backed out.

And then there is the problem of so-called ‘fake news’, and social media’s apparent inability to put a stop to it. Stone has suggested that Twitter should install a ‘trust button’: if users click ‘distrust’, articles from that outlet would no longer be shown on their timelines. The idea is that some websites would be ‘distrusted’ by so many people that their reach would be curbed.

The argument for this is clear: stamping out lies is a good thing. But some people worry that the label of ‘fake news’ has been used for a variety of stories that do not merit the term: there is a difference between clickbait, biased reporting and news that was written in the full knowledge that it was false.

Stone has also vowed to ‘rid Twitter of trolls and hate speech’, believing that it is time to limit what people see on Twitter. He suggests that people should not be able to see tweets from people who they do not follow, in order to prevent ‘irrelevant, annoying, hateful stuff from showing up in front of you’.

Is Twitter right to clamp down on hate speech?

Haters gonna hate

Of course, say some. Twitter has become a nasty place where the views of a neo-Nazi are treated as equal to those of a professor or a writer. Rather than the civilised idea-space it was set up to be, it is now a haven for anonymous bullies. Any steps those in charge of Twitter can take to make it a more welcoming place for everyone should be applauded.

But everyone has a different definition of hate speech, reply others. This means that any curbs on what people can say are bound to be biased. The right to say what you want is ingrained in all civilised societies, and Twitter should follow their example. We do not want a world where people will only read things they agree with. Ideas need to be exchanged, not blocked out.

You Decide

  1. Should Twitter be able to ban people from using it?
  2. Will Twitter exist in 2030?

Activities

  1. In 140 characters, write a code of conduct for all social media users and read it out to your class.
  2. Read an article that argues a point with which you do not agree. Write a 500 word analysis of the argument, ending with a paragraph on whether it changed your mind.

Some People Say...

“Freedom of speech means the freedom to be as offensive as you like.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should I care about this?
You are the generation that has grown up with social media, so any rules of engagement for Twitter, Facebook or Instagram apply to you. And the question of whether there should be limits on free speech is one that constantly crops up: for example, many universities now ban certain controversial speakers: this debate is very close to home.
What should I do if I’m getting nasty messages on social media?
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all have blocking functions, so this is probably the best place to start. If this does not solve the problem for you, then you can report people to the website’s authorities. And if you know the perpetrator from school, then it is best to tell your teacher about it.

Word Watch

World population
The US Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimates that there were around 310 million people alive in 1000AD. And as of the third quarter of 2017, Twitter had 317 million active users.
Biz
His real name is Christopher Isaac Stone, but he is nicknamed Biz by himself ‘because when I was two I tried to say my name but it came out ’Bizabah’.
Silicon Valley
The southern portion of the San Francisco Bay area, in the northern part of California. So-named because it is home to many of the world’s largest technology companies, along with thousands of tech start-ups.
Clickbait
A pejorative term describing web content that is aimed at generating advertising revenue, generally at the expense of accuracy or quality.
Things they agree with
The phenomenon whereby people block out dissenting views is now known as an ‘echo chamber’. Echo chambers have been blamed for the rise of political extremes on both the left and the right.

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