A UK Member of Parliament grilled a top Twitter executive over why the company allows posts from the Chinese Embassy that she said justify an alleged genocide but permanently kicked then-president Donald Trump off the platform.
Twitter’s global head of public policy strategy and development, Nick Pickles, on Wednesday answered questions from members of the UK Home Affairs Select Committee during a session on online harms.
“On one hand you have President Trump’s account suspended for inciting violence,” she said. “Fine. But on the other hand, your platform continues to allow a platform to embassies of the Chinese government based all over the world to defend and justify the violence and the genocide which they are carrying out against their own people.”
Pickles said that Twitter now puts an explicit and obvious label on state media and government accounts. “If you click through that label, we give you the context that Twitter is blocked in this country by the Chinese government,” he said. “That context allows an informed debate.”
“Removing accounts to protest against censorship of Twitter in China doesn’t actually further the public conversation,” Pickles said.
Pickles told the MP’s committee that they were trying to strike a balance. “The fact that this conversation is happening in public, on Twitter, I think gives us a greater global public conversation to hold governments like the Chinese government to account,” he said.
Twitter, however, did lock the account of China’s U.S. embassy for a tweet that defended China’s policy towards Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, according to Reuters. Twitter said it violated their policy against dehumanization.
The tweet, posted on Jan. 7, was hidden by Twitter on Jan. 9. The tweet must be manually deleted by the embassy to regain access to their account. The account was still locked on Jan. 20, according to Bloomberg.
Edwards further challenged Pickles over the consistency of Twitter’s actions. She said that in America people at least had the freedom to take to Twitter to express how appalled they were with Trump over his actions, but “the Chinese people can’t take to Twitter to give their own voice at all, because, as you say, it’s banned in China.”
She mentioned a message retweeted by the Chinese Embassy in the UK, which claims forced labour is the “biggest lie of the century that aimed to restrict and suppress the relevant Chinese authorities and companies and contain China’s development.”
“You’re right, it does have your Chinese government label on there,” she said, adding that the origin of the message is obvious. “But I just can’t, I can’t understand how that’s consistent with the action that you’ve taken against the president—the former president—of the United States.”
A number of political leaders around the world and civil liberty organisations—many of them critical of Donald Trump’s presidency—have expressed concern over social media companies pulling the plug on his accounts.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Twitter’s ban on Trump “problematic.”
“This fundamental right can be intervened in, but according to the law and within the framework defined by legislators—not according to a decision by the management of social media platforms,” her official spokesperson said.
Clement Beaune, the junior minister for European Union affairs, said he was shocked a private company made this kind of decision.
Norway’s left-wing Labor Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre said that Big Tech censorship threatens political freedom around the world. He said Twitter needs to apply the same standard globally that it did to Trump.
The Australian government has also called the ban on Trump an act of “censorship.”
In Russia, Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny said he believed the ban was an unacceptable form of censorship and was based not on a genuine need but rather Twitter’s political preferences.
Victoria Kelly-Clark contributed to this report.