Twitter’s Content Rules Are Arbitrary and Global: This Case Can Bring Reform

Illustration by Jamiel Law. Written by Joel Bakan and Sujit Choudry. Published on Center for International Governance Innovation.

In February 2021, the Indian government ordered Twitter to take down 500-plus accounts. The accounts contained Tweets critical of the government’s brutal response to farmers’ protests that had brought New Delhi to a standstill. The government threatened Twitter’s local employees with imprisonment if the platform did not comply — so it did. No legal recourse was available for the affected account holders, nor for any other Twitter users, to challenge this blatant muzzling of freedom of expression by Twitter and the Indian government.

Half a world away in Canada, we have launched two lawsuits that could provide a basis for a legal response.

The story begins with a documentary film, The New Corporation, produced by Grant Street Productions, and written and co-directed (with Jennifer Abbott) by Joel Bakan, co-author of this article. The film is based on Bakan’s award-winning book of the same name and is a sequel to his 2004 book and film, The Corporation.

Both films and books expose the corrosive impact on democracy of large corporations’ outsized economic power. Financed by the Canadian broadcaster Crave, along with Canada’s top film-funding agencies, The New Corporation premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2020, and has since screened at numerous film festivals, as well as at scholarly conferences and events held by non-governmental organizations. The film, currently in distribution in Canada and beyond, has been lauded by critics worldwide.

How curious it is, then, that Twitter — purportedly a venue of and champion for freedom of speech — should censor a trailer for this film. But that is what occurred in December 2020 and continues to this day. The following narrative traces this large, powerful corporation’s arbitrary suppression of the right to free expression of an independent artist and thinker, and the fight to overturn it.

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