November 20, 2020 - 7:00am

In the dim and distant days before word processing, editors used to wield a blue pencil to make changes to copy. Hence the universal symbol of censorship: to ‘blue pencil’ a piece of text means to delete, bowdlerise or otherwise interfere with it.

How nice to see Twitter keeping up the old traditions. If they don’t like your tweet or consider it suspect then out comes the blue pencil in digital form. Except, instead of taking away from your text, they might add to it with a message of their own.

Such labels begin with a little exclamation mark in a circle and then go on to say something like “Get the facts about COVID-19” or “This claim about election fraud is disputed”. Here’s an explainer straight from the little bird’s mouth. Many of Donald Trump tweets are getting this treatment right now, for instance this one:

Should Twitter be doing this? I’m not suggesting that the President Un-elect isn’t tweeting nonsense, but do we really need @jack telling us what to think? Trump’s opponents won’t believe anything he says anyway and his diehard fans will take Twitter’s intervention as further proof of liberal skulduggery.

And then there’s the grotesque inconsistency. Consider the following tweet from the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations:

“The freedom of belief is well protected”. Yes, apart for the 1 million plus Muslim Uighurs in concentration camps, the ongoing oppression of Buddhism in Tibet, the ripping down of crosses from Christian Churches and the systematic persecution of any group that refuses to submit to state control.

So, do we see Twitter adding any little blue messages to the barefaced lies of the Beijing regime? We do not. There is a little grey label that reads “China government account”, but labels like that are attached as a matter of course to all tweets from government accounts including the US and UK. Otherwise, there’s nothing added to the above tweet. Not even an exclamation mark followed by “This claim about human rights is disputed”.

Don’t forget that, in the UK, Twitter proudly declares its commitment to “countering anti-Muslim hatred online“:

“Twitter prohibits the dehumanisation of a group of people based on their religion; language that makes someone less than human can have repercussions off the service, including normalising serious violence.”
- Twitter UK

Well, Muslims in the Chinese province of Xinjiang are being dehumanised on a truly terrifying scale. And it’s not solely those suffering within the camps, but also the blighted lives of the women and children on the outside. Yet, Twitter allows the Chinese state to use its platform to gaslight the world.

So there we have it: a woke corporation that speaks over President Trump, while simultaneously providing a mouthpiece for President Xi. I guess it helps having the two faces.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.