Could alt-right account bans spell the end of Twitter?

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Abuse and trolling has been a serious problem for Twitter for some time and continues to be so. Various measures have been introduced to help with the issues, but now the site is going down a more drastic route, banning prominent alt-right accounts.

This is not something that is entirely new; earlier in the year Breitbart's Milo Yiannopoulos (also known as @Nero) was permanently banned from Twitter. In the wake of Donald Trump's astonishing rise to presidency, the alt-right movement has enjoyed a major boost. The question is, does Twitter risk cutting off too many of its users if it continues its alt-right cull?

When an online company starts to interfere with large groups of users who identify with a particular ideology, there is a very real danger of accusations of bias -- just ask Facebook. But when does fighting potentially dangerous branches of nationalism start to become censorship, and is Twitter in danger of being too heavy-handed with its ban hammer?

One of the suspended accounts belongs to Richard Spencer, leader of the very right wing National Policy Institute (NPI). Also cut were the accounts of the NPI itself, and Spencer's online magazine Radix Journal. Spencer is understandably irritated at Twitter's actions, and speaking to Daily Caller News Corporation he says:

This is corporate Stalinism. Twitter is trying to airbrush the Alt Right out of existence. They're clearly afraid. They will fail!

But while Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter for abusing other users, questions have been raised about the reasons for the bans slapped on Spencer and other prominent alt-right figures such as Paul Town, Pax Dickinson, Ricky Vaughn and John Rivers. As disagreeable as their politics may be, there have been suggestions that Twitter has enforced the bans not because of instances of abuse, but as part of a concerted movement to block certain political ideologies from the site.

Alt-right may not yet be mainstream (there's a reason that "alt" is in the label), but it's a movement that's gaining ground. As such Twitter potentially facing an on-going battle to close the accounts of new alt-righters as time goes on, and risks reinforcing the view of a liberal bias in the world of tech.

But there is a secondary danger to this, and it's something else that has been talked about in the fallout of the Clinton vs Trump presidential battle. Social media has become an echo chamber where the use of algorithms mean that people only really see news and topics that already perfectly align with what they believe. In cutting out a particular ideology, Twitter could face accusations of influencing the news just as Facebook has done.

Twitter has been in trouble for some time and increasing numbers of users jump to an alternative -- be that a forced jump following a ban, or a personal choice based on a desire to avoid censorship.

The company needs to walk a delicate line so as not to be seen to be simply quieting views it disagrees with.

Photo credit: Christopher Penler / Shutterstock

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