Did Twitter reap what it sowed in Nigeria?

You may have read that Nigeria have suspended access to Twitter. You can read more about it here. The move followed Twitter’s decision to suspend the account of the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.

President Buhari posted a tweet that that threatened to punish regional secessionists. Reuters report, ‘On Wednesday, the U.S. tech firm said Buhari’s post threatening to punish groups blamed for attacks on government buildings had violated Twitter’s “abusive behaviour” policy.’ In response, as of Saturday, Nigeria blocked access to the site announcing the suspension of Twitter on the platform.

You may remember the much vaunted suspension of Donald Trump from the platform, which despite his protests, was not overturned. Twitter has now suspended the account of the Nigerian President. It still, however, continues to permit the account from Ayatollah Hameini and others who might similarly be said to violate Twitter’s policies.

In response, Twitter stated the following:

It is interesting that Twitter are deeply concerned about their blocking within Nigeria whilst failing to see the irony of having already blocked the Nigerian President. They seem to see no issue with claiming that the internet ought to be free and open for all having themselves blocked the account of someone whom they did not consider free to voice their opinion in the terms in which he did.

No doubt some will argue that Twitter is a private company and free to set whatever terms of use it will. This is certainly true. One of the greatest tricks of the social media giants is convincing people they are free platforms when, in fact, they are merely private companies setting their own terms of use to which we all agree when we sign up. Twitter, they will argue, is free to set its own terms of use and then enforce them. These same people will argue that the actions of Twitter (a private company with terms of use) is distinctly different to that of a state blocking a private company from operating, And they would essentially be right about that.

Others, however, will point to the somewhat erratic way Twitter polices its policies. Ayatollah Hameini and various people in the Palestinian solidarity movement may remain to make comments that others deem abusive whilst various leaders of government, along with many others, are suspended for far milder comments than those that pass many others by. They will argue that Twitter may well have a right to set its own policies, but it ought to apply them fairly and consistently and it frequently doesn’t. Certain political and social views appear to pass without question whilst others, seemingly, do not.

Others still will simply view this as hypocrisy by Twitter. How can they blithely suspend the account of those it deems to say and do things against their policies whilst complaining that another country has done exactly the same to them? If you live by the blocked account, you will die by the blocked account. Twitter have no business complaining that Nigeria have blocked their platform on the grounds of openness when they have merrily blocked the Nigerian president from expressing himself openly on the platform itself. You reap what you sow, they will aver.

It strikes me that no free society should be looking to ban publicly available platforms or private companies. It should equally be the case that the private company should be allowed to set its own terms of service. That same company should comply with its own policies and apply them fairly. But it can equally have no complaints if it decides that suspensions are valid if, in the end, someone else decides to suspend access to the same platform.