Twitter’s month-long period given to users associated with hate speech to leave the site ended on Monday, and the site is following through on its promised to curb such rhetoric on their social network.
For two years now, Twitter has been working with its group of online safety experts, the Trust & Safety Council, to achieve a sort of balance between maintaining the practice of free speech on their website while limiting the prevalence of hate speech. Now, Twitter will take into account hate speech expressed by its users not only on the site itself, but also out in the real world. This now closes a sort of loophole which allowed users to promote hate speech in a more subtle way instead of just outright blurting out horrible shit.
A blog post on the new policies says,
This includes celebrating any violent act in a manner that may inspire others to replicate it or any violence where people were targeted because of their membership in a protected group. We will require offending Tweets to be removed and repeated violations will result in permanent suspension.
Upon its creation in 2006, CEO Jack Dorsey, along with Twitter’s crew of cofounders, said that the site will be a sort of free speech, along all users to express their thoughts as they see fit. However, this allowed for White supremacists, anti-Semites, and even terrorist organizations like ISIS to spread their beliefs on as massive a scale as any.
While the new policy is a noble one, Twitter admitted that it is unlikely that the change will succeed without any drawbacks. The blog post said,
In our efforts to be more aggressive here, we may make some mistakes and are working on a robust appeals process. We’ll evaluate and iterate on these changes in the coming days and weeks, and will keep you posted on progress along the way.
A member of Twitter’s Trust & Safety Council, Susan Benesch, indicated that such a drastic change would be a “slippery slope.” This is especially true given the criticism Twitter has already faced, which claims that the site no longer promotes free speech. In an email, she said,
If Twitter starts banning people who are affiliated with organizations that use or promote violence against civilians to further a cause, that’s tantamount to prohibiting certain opinions: a very new policy for a platform that used to be known as the ‘free speech wing of the free speech party.’
Benesch continued on to say,
It’s not surprising, of course. If you’re going to ban any kind of opinion, this is a logical place to start. Twitter staff may find themselves struggling to distinguish among guerrillas, terrorists, revolutionaries, and dissidents.”
With Twitter facing blowback like this, Kevin Xu, the founder of “free speech” social media platform Gab, urged those critics to come on over and give his site a try. Ironically, he used Twitter to do so.
For those who think they might be gone from Twitter on 18th, just joined Gab, please follow me at: https://t.co/EBq09nREK0
— Kevin Xu (@kxu65) December 18, 2017
— Kim Priestap (@kimpriestap) December 17, 2017
While Twitter did not speak about which specific accounts face a band, a spokesperson indicated that the site will not allow groups which:
- Openly identify as an extremist group
- Have engaged in, are currently engaging in, or plan to engage in violent acts in order to further whatever cause they represent.
- Target civilians in their threats and/or acts of violence.
However, the policy will not be used against government, military, or elected official accounts, as they don’t consider potential threats of violence by such accounts to be directed at civilians. As per the spokesperson, Twitter will consider making similar exceptions to accounts which promote “peaceful resolutions” to the issues they bring up.
On this, Benesch wrote,
The one common thread is that it means to denigrate or attack a person or persons because of their membership in a group — usually ethnic, religious, social, etc. Twitter distinguishes between attacks on groups, such as #KillallMuslims, and attacks on specific people, usually aimed at those people with @ mentions.
Despite Twitter’s reluctance to directly name the accounts they plan to ban, they have said that they will try to be more transparent on the issue in the future. For example, they will publicly flag accounts temporarily banned for violating the new policies, whether it be due to content posted on the accounts or particularly disturbing aspects of their profiles.
If you get suspended or banned from Twitter due to these policies, you can file an appeal for the reinstatement of your account, a process which Twitter is also looking to improve.
Personally, I think this is a huge step forward in the prevention of hate speech from spreading to larger masses of people. Twitter is one of the biggest social networking platforms in the world, with millions upon millions of users posting every day. These new policies will make a huge difference in the quelling of hate speech on the internet, helping to make the world just a bit of a better place.