Some Background for Those Not Familiar with Twitter
It’s not a few times that Twitter has been accused of engaging in censorship-like practices, or in caving in to governmental and political interests. In the narrow range of subjects which I follow via Twitter, we saw incidences of this concerning with the so-called Twitter Revolution in Iran, when Twitter readily agreed to State Department demands that it postpone maintenance that might have supposedly interrupted the flow of messages that allegedly were coming from within Iran. We also saw this with the deluge of tweets earlier this summer concerning the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, when it was abundantly clear to those posting related messages that no matter how many more tweets the subject was getting per minute, compared to Twitter’s other listed “trending topics,” that it was nearly impossible to get #FreedomFlotilla to trend.
The case I am presenting concerns a relatively new feature of Twitter, where certain tweets, if they are auto-retweeted enough times, earn a kind of badge that says “top tweet,” pertaining to a given subject (a discussion represented by a keyword preceded by a hash-tag, such as #Afghanistan). By auto-retweet, I mean when a Twitter user simply clicks on “retweet” beneath a given tweet: it can be a way to indicate approval and endorsement, but in some cases it can just mean “look at this.” Manual retweets, as I call them, involve copying and pasting a tweet, or editing them somehow, and then placing RT in front of the given tweet–they take more time to do, and are not counted by Twitter in its “top tweet” function. A “top tweet” is fixed in place at the top of a discussion list, for all to see, and it remains there…from what I have seen, for several days even, unless other tweets also become top tweets and move it out of view because more people auto-retweeted them.
Twitter Cleansing on the Eve of 9/11 2010
Now I am also accusing Twitter of censoring what users see. This is not a case of Twitter having deleted anything I wrote, just moving it out of view, from a place it earned under Twitter’s own rules.
I was clearly unmoved by all of the official piety surrounding Pastor Terry Jones’ threatened Quran burning session for 11 September 2010. All this palaver about “endangering troops” (when so far the only person to get killed over this was an unarmed Afghan protester…and the only ones “endangering” his life were NATO troops themselves), and all the natter about a “recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda” (senseless fear-mongering, that if Obama were to take his own words seriously would at least cause him to consider immediate troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Iraq, and drastically scale back aid to Israel). In other words, it struck me all as bullshit–mere window dressing, soft power, when empire gets stuck on stupid and seeks to gain pitiful little mileage from a wayward pastor. So I wrote this:
America doesn’t burn books. It burns countries.
Thanks to very kind and generous followers, it quickly became the top tweet on #Afghanistan, #Iraq, #Panama, #Nicaragua, #ElSalvador, #Vietnam, #Iran, and #Korea. Coincidentally, a tweet from another Montrealer that I correspond with, Sarah Abdallah, was also at the top. At last count, mine had 35. For a while, it appeared third, under a days old tweet about a McCain interview on Fox News Sunday, and an even older one that was gibberish from some celebrity–top tweets often remain in place for a whole week.
In less than 24 hours, unusually fast, both mine and Sarah’s were gone, no longer top tweets, replaced by one from Stars and Stripes, with far fewer retweets, about some killer getting a medal.
Here are some screen captures (click to enlarge to clear quality). The first is from early on when ours climbed to the top, now about 24 hours ago:
and this is how that appeared a few hours ago:
The reason mine appears at all in the second screen capture is because I took it soon after bringing this to the attention of followers in Twitter, whose generosity once again made them retweet it further. Otherwise, this is what you get now.
NATO’S Twitter Arm
That list is usually dominated by NATO’s ISAF, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFORA) which as you can clearly see in the top picture is ensconced by Twitter above all else, various U.S. military branches, milbloggers, and military families, as well as breaking news alerts from mainstream media. In all of the time I have been following that list, especially since the “top tweet” function came into being, and with all of the worldwide opposition to the war in Afghanistan, I have never before seen a “critical” tweet at the top. That was my first source of surprise in finding mine at the top.
My days of complaining privately, and being ignored privately, are long over. That somebody has taken Twitter’s ear again, or forced its arm, or whether it chose independently to perform its own Säuberung to keep things nice and pretty for 9/11, or whether fat headed patriotic American users complained…whatever, whether one or the other possibility, or all of them combined, does not matter. We see in the second screen capture that its system is being manipulated, where Stars and Stripes with fewer retweets is kept above those with more. There is no denying it.
So, what would Twitter’s advice be to Pastor Terry Jones:
Don’t burn those Qurans. Just get as many as you can, and quietly move them out of view.
And what should we remember on 9/11?
Where they burn books, at the end they also burn people.