Twitter in a Tempest

Advocacy, Intellectual Freedom Issues

By: Frederic Murray

The attacks on the reputation of news organizations and the attempted intimidation of journalists continues unabated, though in the recent case of Roger Stone (Oct. 27, 2017), not without repercussions.

@donlemon stop lying about about the Clinton’s and Uranium you ignorant lying covksucker!!!!You fake news you dumb piece of shit.

One has to wonder if the egregious misspelling was an errant attempt at circumventing Twitter’s arbitrary rules, or if Roger Stone was so far out of kilter concerning Mueller’s investigation, and soon to be unsealed indictments, that Mr. Stone temporarily lost his command of profanity. In any event, Mr. Stone is now banned from using Twitter and has threatened legal action.

Roger Stone is a highly-paid political consultant elevated to prominence with the election of Donald Trump. He and the president have a long and storied relationship dating back to the 1980s when both were acolytes of Roy Cohen, a viscous and disreputable acolyte (himself) of Senator Joe McCarthy. This starts to read like the dark legends of the Sith Lords, but it is important to understand this political history if we are to engage and stand against the abuses being carried out on a daily basis in our body politic.

These attempts at debasement and distraction will not work.

Stone and his supporters are going to suggest that his speech is being censored. This is nonsense and is the reactionary gesture familiar to anyone who has spent time debunking racist, sexist or homophobic arguments. But before anyone starts to cheer for Twitter, when there is nothing cheery about this whole situation, we should look for a moment at its business practice.

While a number of social media outlets are attempting to deal with the babel that threatens to both engulf and (I would argue) destroy their business platforms, Twitter remains disengaged from taking fake news seriously. In a short article from Bloomberg Businessweek (Oct. 23, 2017) it’s reported that there is no accurate accounting for the number of bots responsible for spreading fake news. In support of this assertion, the Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) published, this past August, a report showing how doppelganger websites, and their talking points of Russian origin, were being replicated by far-right commentators in response to racist rallies plaguing Charlottesville.

This seems something out of a Stanislaw Lem novel, but it is entirely too real.

Facebook is working with the European Commission to deal with misinformation/disinformation. Sundar Pichai has been tasked with the Augeas’ stables servers, but Twitter remains tied to a model of valuation tied to usage: less use, less value, so damn the bots, full speed ahead.

If this seems Byzantine and makes your head spin and you want to throw up your hands… completely understandable. No one in their right mind wants to wander around Kafka’s castle looking for bug spray. But we do have an obligation as librarians to understand the inherent weaknesses of these social media environments and actively educate about them. It might serve us to remember that at one point the implantation of OPACs, or the migration of journals into databases, or the growth of digital archives as dynamic new platforms of publishing and dissemination (see Scholarly Communication) also seemed foreign to our mission. Our profession is constantly evolving and social media has become a maelstrom.

If we’re to defend intellectual freedoms as librarians, then we need to master and understand the new frontiers on which it is being attacked.


Frederic MurrayFrederic Murray is the head of Instructional Services at the Al Harris Library, Southwestern Oklahoma State University. He is a tenured faculty member and as an academic librarian has initiated the growth and expansion of information literacy classes across the campus curriculum. He has presented at state, national and international conferences in the areas of library pedagogy, digital textbooks, and the development of curriculum for Native American Studies. He serves as the managing editor for Administrative Issues Journal, a peer-reviewed, open access journal in its sixth year of publication. He believes deeply in the value of books and the inherent strength found in the human voice. Among his favorite authors are Lenny Bruce, Jimmy Santiago Baca and Carson McCullers. He can be reached at

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