Twitter - the social network that allows 140-character posts from anyone, anywhere, about anything - rose to public policy prominence by "helping" organize the Arab Spring revolution and spread truths about minorities suffering awful mistreatments across several continents.
This "giving voice to the voiceless" achieved universally positive endorsements of the Twitter platform, and has helped earn the company a reputation as one helping the Davids face Goliaths. Understandably, these endorsements have been welcomed by Twitter's hierarchy, including co-founder Jack Dorsey and CEO Dick Costolo, who have on numerous occasions admitted they are proud of the evolution of their communication platform.
However, what should happen when Twitter starts being used by Goliaths to bully Davids? What should happen when those with a voice use Twitter to crush the voiceless? What should happen when Twitter's "positive" influence on public policy turns "negative"?
This week, oil-rich Azerbaijan dictator Ilham Aliyev, used Twitter to declare war on the Christian Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh.
Some background for those not familiar with the region and its problems. Nagorno Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, was historically part of Armenia until it was handed to Azerbaijan by Joseph Stalin. Despite this, the region maintained a majority Armenian population, who lived oppressed under Azeri rule until the 1990s. This was when man, woman and child decided "enough is enough" and decided to grab anything resembling a weapon to defend their rights to sovereignty.
After a bloody war, a ceasefire was negotiated between Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan, which resulted in a referendum where the population of Nagorno Karabakh voted overwhelmingly to exercise their right to self-determination and declare the birth of the barely recognized Republic of Nagorno Karabakh.
Despite this vote, and the 1994 ceasefire watched over by international bodies hoping to achieve a lasting treaty to deliver peace to the region, Azerbaijan has remained aggressive, with Aliyev constantly threatening to wipe it free of Armenians while building up military armor with its petro-billions that would threaten most nations.
Now, 20 years into the ceasefire, Aliyev is getting pesky and threatening to turn his war words into action.
In the last week, years of threats and minor border skirmishes turned into full-blown acts of war, when Azerbaijan started moving their heavy armor into key military positions while launching ground offensives to test the Armenian front-line.
Aliyev was quiet during these tests, until in the last 24 hours, when he took to Twitter to declare war and insight racial hatred among his Turkic citizens against the Christian Armenians they neighbor.
Some of his tweets are embedded below:
We will restore all of the occupied and destroyed cities. We will return to this land, we live and will live with this idea.— Ilham Aliyev (@presidentaz) August 7, 2014
The patriotic spirit is very high in Azerbaijan.— Ilham Aliyev (@presidentaz) August 7, 2014
Just as we have beaten the Armenians on the political and economic fronts, we are able to defeat them on the battlefield.— Ilham Aliyev (@presidentaz) August 7, 2014
We will restore our sovereignty. The flag of Azerbaijan will fly in all the occupied territories, including Shusha and Khankandi.— Ilham Aliyev (@presidentaz) August 7, 2014
The enemy is in a state of panic and hysteria. We have sufficient opportunities to know what is happening on the other side.— Ilham Aliyev (@presidentaz) August 7, 2014
The weaponry and ammunition we have acquired in recent years suggest that we can accomplish any task.— Ilham Aliyev (@presidentaz) August 7, 2014
This is only a sampling of his 50+ tweets designed to bully this small nation, which deserves the same right to self-determination as all other nations, regardless of size and might.
As a technologist, who was brought up in the era where the Googles of the world had slogans like "Don't be evil", I wonder where Twitter stands in all of this?
Unlike the "positives" of Twitter during the Arab Revolution, Tsunamis, etc., I don't expect a Charlie Rose interview with Dorsey or Costolo, where they are asked if they are proud to see their platform being used for war-mongering, bullying and hate speech by an oil-rich fundamentalist and racist dictator.
While I am sure they are not proud, I ask: what are they going to do about it?
Should they allow Twitter to be used by Goliaths against Davids? By those with a voice threatening to crush the voiceless? What should happen when Twitter's "positive" influence on public policy turns "negative"?
I think the answer is simple. "Don't be evil" and don't allow evil.
Ban Ilham Aliyev from Twitter to help #StopAliyev and empower only those who deserve empowerment.