Yesterday’s hearing of the House Oversight Committee featured three former Twitter executives who are at the center of the growing censorship scandal involving the company: Twitter’s former chief legal officer Vijaya Gadde, former deputy general counsel James Baker and former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth.
However, it was the testimony of the only witness called by the Democrats that proved the most enlightening and chilling.
Former executive Twitter Anika Collier Navaroli testified on what she repeatedly called the “nuanced” standard used by her and her staff on censorship.
Toward the end of the hearing, she was asked about that standard by Rep. Melanie Ann Stansbury (D., NM). Her answer captured precisely why Twitter’s censorship system proved a nightmare for free expression. Stansbury’s agreement with her take on censorship only magnified the concerns over the protection of free speech on social media.
Even before Stansbury’s question, the hearing had troubling moments. Ranking Member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D., Md) opened up the hearing that insisting that Twitter has not censored enough and suggested that it was still fueling violence by allowing disinformation to be posted on the platform.
Navaroli then testified how she felt that there should have been much more censorship and how she fought with the company to remove more material that she and her staff considered “dog whistles” and “coded” messaging.
Rep. Stansbury asked what Twitter has done and is doing to combat hate speech on its platform. Navaroli correctly declined to address current policies since she has not been at the company for some time. However, she then said that they balanced free speech against safety and explained that they sought a different approach:
“Instead of asking just free speech versus safety to say free speech for whom and public safety for whom. So whose free expression are we protecting at the expense of whose safety and whose safety are we willing to allow to go the winds so that people can speak freely.”
Rep. Stansbury responded by saying “Exactly.”