As Twitter permanently suspends Donald Trump, how do Aussie social media startups balance responsibility and censorship?


Clipboardau co-founder Tipu Sultan.

Donald Trump has finally been permanently banned from his favourite social media soapbox, Twitter.

And, while “risk of further incitement of violence” seems like a perfectly reasonable reason to be booted out of any environment — online or otherwise — the decision has led to calls of censorship against the outgoing US President, and outrage from his followers.

This isn’t a violation of free speech. The US First Amendment protects against the government silencing citizens, not against private companies.

But, Twitter does hold power here. There are those — including Trump’s son Donald Jr — suggesting that Twitter’s actions are a tad hypocritical.

Indeed, Twitter has historically been slow (at best) to punish abusive users, including those issuing death threats, or inciting violence against others.

In Australia, new and upcoming social media startups are watching carefully.

Tipu Sultan heads up Aussie startup Clipboard, a professional social networking platform for people working in the hospitality sector.

Sultan says it comes down to more than the treatment of one individual. But, any platform does have to consider the sheer amount of power one person’s voice can wield, and take that into account when making their decisions.

“If you are someone that people listen to then you have to be cautious.”

Twitter may not permanently ban every person who violates its terms and conditions. But, the more power a user has, the more responsibility the business has to make an exception.

If one user’s behaviour is literally disrupting an economy, drastic action may well be justified.

On a more local scale, Clipboard has some of Australia’s celebrity chefs on the platform, Sultan explains. The team works with them to help ensure they’re creating a positive and encouraging environment.

In this space, they’re the influencers, he explains.

“The younger crowd follow them.”

For its part, Clipboard has an AI mechanism that tracks swear words, racial comments, and anything else exclusionary, or that could be hurtful to any group, Sultan tells SmartCompany.

People who are not aligned with the startup’s values, or willing to stay within the boundaries created, have been blocked in the past, and will continue to be in the future, he explains.

They’re given a warning, and if their behaviour doesn’t improve, they’re removed.

Sultan isn’t exactly in unchartered territory here. Having founded Clipboard three years ago, he and co-founder Brendan Leeds had spent years observing the growth of the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

They know as well as the rest of us just how quickly things can turn toxic online, and had the opportunity to put preventative policies in place early.

“We’ve done tonnes of research,” Sultan says.

The team reviews its procedures quarterly, he adds. And as the business grows, he only sees that becoming more important.

“We have to be very much aligned with the social norms we consider, because we want to go global,” he explains.

“We have to understand the cultural differences.”


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