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OPINION: Is free speech more important than stopping harassment?

On Christmas Day, a former Washington State University College Republicans president was suspended from Twitter seemingly out of the blue, the Daily News reported Thursday.

James Allsup, who had more than 23,000 followers on Twitter, is a political activist who gained infamy for the Trump wall erected under his direction by the College Republicans on WSU’s campus in 2016 and, most notably, for being spotted at the Aug. 11 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., that later turned deadly.

Though it’s unclear why Twitter decided to suspend Allsup’s account, it comes a week after the company updated its rules regarding abuse and hateful conduct.

Several other accounts – including political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, whom Allsup had invited to speak at WSU – have also been suspended since the change in rules, with many of them affiliated with the far right.

This trend has caused an outcry against Twitter among the conservative community, with figures like Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai labeling the site as biased toward liberals.

The issue revolves around whether or not Twitter’s new rules, which seem to disproportionately target conservatives, constitute censorship. The site is walking a fine line between protecting its users from harassing and hateful comments – which Twitter has become a hotbed of – and protecting free speech rights.

Without having all the facts in front of us, it’s hard to determine whether Allsup or other banned users have violated Twitter’s rules or not, but in the rules and policies section of the site, Twitter explained its stance on abusive behavior.

“We believe in freedom of expression and open dialogue, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up,” the site reads.

If a user can’t figure out how to profess his or her beliefs without harassing other users, should Twitter be required to let that person use its platform?

We on the editorial board say no – regardless of the offender’s political affiliation.

 

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