Twitter, First Amendment Warrior?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That is the First Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights. The portion many—and now Twitter—focus on involves the freedom of speech and the press. This clause, as interpreted by countless court decisions, asserts the press as watchdog of the government and conduits of information to the public. The press has the right to critique and close scrutinize the government for the sake of transparency.

When the press takes advantage of this right, it can go both ways and more often than not, it goes south. The government can be questioned and brought out to the public to be criticized and rebuked, without being given a chance to explain or defend. This is how news articles regarding online trading sites like Infinity App scare people away as they are made to believe, they will get cheated.

Twitter could potentially fill this role as well if the U.S. government continues to restrict how transparent the social media self-expression advocate can be.

The now public site released its Transparency Report Thursday. The report, first released in 2012 and now published bi-annually, aims to highlight “trends in government requests [Twitter] receive[s] for account information … for content removal and copyright notices (both takedown notices and counter notices). The report also provides insight into whether or not [they] take action on these requests.”

Though the report cites a 66 percent rise in worldwide governmental information requests, data about U.S. requests are limited. Despite a two percent increase in U.S. government requests in just the last six months, we still don’t know much about what exactly it requested. Twitter is not able to release much information about U.S. national security requests due to current Department of Justice regulations.

That could soon change. Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s manager of Global Legal Policy, blogged about potentially seeking legal action in order to increase the company’s transparency by releasing more information.

“We have pressed the U.S. Department of Justice to allow greater transparency, and proposed future disclosures concerning national security requests that would be more meaningful to Twitter’s users,” Kessel wrote. “We are also considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.

With national debate focusing on National Security Administration policies, we may seen an increased legal action from Twitter and other social media companies that value a free flow of information and expression.

I think such legal action could lead to a slippery slope. On the one hand, it would allow more forms of media to provide a check on the government. It could also increase self-policing of social media conduct by users. On the other hand, it could also—like the WikiLeaks situation—endanger people and information if not done with tact and caution. Though I would lead toward Twitter’s side, as a member of the media and proponent of the First Amendment in all its capacity, I’d warn, in the words of metal band Limp Bizkit: “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

Other companies have also begun publishing their own transparency reports. View them here.

Featured image courtesy of euthman via Creative Commons license.