Twitter: From Microblogging to a Human Right
Over the last several years, social media platforms have evolved from mere communication applications to consequential social impact drivers used by about 4.6 billion subscribers globally including everyday people, traditional media, businesses, politicians, governments, civil society, and even terrorists. Courts around the world have even classified social media as integral to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression - a right protected under the First Amendment as well as by International law. And just this month, an international human rights court in West Africa delivered a landmark decision about access to Twitter.
Twitter, which has a reach of more than 465 million people, has emerged as a hotbed for political discussion and engagement. As the platform’s popularity grows and its uses diversify, there are questions about the company and governments’ responsibilities to uphold international standards of freedom of expression in relation to access to Twitter and its content. Instances from former US President Trump using the platform to announce major policy moves, to the government of Nigeria completely banning the platform during a time of heavy protests and criticism have emphasized the importance of addressing Twitter’s role in the right to freedom of expression. And recent judicial decisions in the United States and abroad have started to do just that.
In the United States, former President Trump, revolutionized the use of Twitter for politics and governance in a manner that heightened the company’s role from passive moderator to active enforcer of its community guidelines and rules. In this new role and in the wake of the disgraceful January 6, 2021, insurrection, Twitter permanently banned Trump for breaching its Glorification of Violence policy. Facebook and Google also banned Trump, who then sued the social media companies for breaching his First Amendment right to free speech.
On the other side of the world, in June 2021, Nigeria’s government ordered an indefinite ban on access to Twitter two days after President Buhari’s post, deemed to incite violence, was pulled down by the company for breaching its abusive behavior policy. In addition to the ban, Nigeria’s attorne