There’s no denying Twitter has become home to some unsavory characters and their views. Sometimes it seems that for every social justice advocate keeping y'all woke 140/280 characters at a time, there’s a Nazi making you question your faith in humanity. At least they did until today, when Twitter purged itself of a number of questionable accounts.
For two years, Twitter has been keeping an eye on user behavior. CEO Jack Dorsey & Co. have been working with their Trust and Safety Council, a group of online safety experts, to mitigate harassment and violence. What may sound like a great idea is really an unprecedented move for the platform. Until now, Twitter has embraced the dark side of free speech, which meant letting users say pretty much whatever tf they want, no matter how hateful or disgusting. However, Twitter is going to start applying some much needed context to user tweets and will take into account user behavior “on and off the platform”—like if you’re also a Nazi IRL.
So what’s no longer acceptable. According to a blog post, “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.”
It’s important to note that Twitter’s community standards have always prohibited violent extremism, but that didn’t prevent users affiliated with a hate group from tweeting a PG-13 version of their views. Profile images, header photos and bios are also subject to review under the new rules. Users can now report offensive content in these areas, and Twitter will force the user to remove it.
Since Twitter was founded back in 2006, Dorsey and co-founders openly embraced free speech—the good, the bad, and the WTF. And much like free speech in real life, there’s two sides of that coin. On the upside, Twitter has served as an invaluable platform for activism; it was integral during during the Arab Spring. On the other hand, the platform has been co-opted by terror and hate groups. ISIS has used it to broadcast its propaganda, not to mention your run-of-the-mill racists.
In these divisive political times, Twitter has found themselves at somewhat of an impasse, choosing to forego their original stance on free speech. Remember when they verified white-nationalist Jason Kessler (@TheMadDimension)? In the wake of public and user backlash, Twitter revoked the prized blue checkmark from his account, keeping in step with a pattern of de-verifying, or in some cases, banning controversial accounts. Twitter admits the process isn’t perfect. As the blog post explains, "In our efforts to be more aggressive here, we may make some mistakes and are working on a robust appeals process.”
Indeed, Twitter is toeing a real fine line with their new policies. One of Twitter’s Trust and Saftey Council members, Susan Benesh, explains, “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.” Benesh is a faculty associate at Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and executive director of the Dangerous Speech Project.
Even before today’s purge, Twitter’s new stance incited harsh critique. Andrew Torba, founder of Gab, a “free speech” social network, has been capitalizing on Twitter’s new policies to drive disgruntled and at-risk Twitter users to join his platform. Gab is quickly becoming a destination for ultra-conservative users who no longer welcome on Twitter.
So who exactly did Twitter tell to GTFO? They won't say exactly who was kicked off today, but they promise to be more transparent about these decisions in the future. They’re also labeling profiles that have been temporarily suspended. Twitter’s policies do not, however, apply to military, government entities, or elected officials, so rest easy @realdonaldtrump, whose tweets I can’t see, because he blocked me. Hey Twitter, how about preventing elected officials from blocking users?
For those who feel they were unjustly kicked off Twitter today, there’s an online portal where you can appeal your ban.