Social media has a long history of bucking government orders. It is often the stance of social media companies not to divulge the name of a person behind a certain account or to give government officials access to private accounts.
The latest standoff is between Twitter and the US Government.
The account @ALT_uscis is a popular anti-Trump account that claims to be manned (or womanned) by a federal immigration employee. The account is described as an ‘immigration resistance.’ Twitter Inc. has filed a lawsuit to block an order from the US government demanding that the company reveal the name of the person behind the popular account.
Twitter has a past of defending its users, but this time it might be different. The ACLU lawyer that is representing the Twitter user has told press that there is no justification for the revelation of the Twitter user. Further, the defendant’s lawyer notes that the request is ‘highly unusual.’
Why Twitter Argues
Twitter is supposed to be a place where people can voice their opinion. Sometimes, those opinions are anonymous. Sometimes, those opinions go against governments. Twitter is of the stance that American citizens are allowed (and have the legal right) to say anything that they want to say, which includes creating an anti-government Twitter account.
Some lawmakers argue that attempting to find out who the Twitter user is isn’t worth government money or time. Others argue that the order to disclose the Twitter user was sent directly from the White House. Twitter doesn’t see any reason to let government officials know who the user is and will continue to fight.
While the Twitter user mentioned above had a decent following prior to this story, news of this account and Twitter’s refusal to give up the person behind the account has spread widely. Almost overnight, the account obtained thousands of additional Twitter users. So even if it wasn’t popular before, it is now. But just how much damage can Twitter really do?
Social media has the power to sway public opinion. This is why so many media companies create articles simply for the purpose of spreading those articles across social media - and hopefully changing the minds of the masses. If one Twitter users manages to gain millions of followers, some of those followers might start to believe what that user is saying.
On the Flip Side
United States citizens are protected by the First Amendment, which is the freedom of speech act. In other words, no matter how someone says what they say, they are allowed to think and say what they want to say - even on Twitter. In the eyes of Twitter Inc., the government must have a very good reason for asking the company to give up user details.
In this case, Twitter does not believe that there is such a reason. It is unlikely that the Twitter user will be forced to reveal themselves. But, the government may just bring a strong case against the user. This will be a landmark case as far as freedom of speech goes.