Twitter to crack down on harmful content, hate speech

Earlier this month, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the company would be rolling out new rules and regulations against hate speech, sexual harassment and other harmful content.

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Photo credit: Jian Bautista

In a series of tweets, commonly referred to as a “thread” or “tweetstorm,” Dorsey explained the reasoning behind this new initiative, noting that the company still hasn’t done enough after two years.

“We see voices being silenced on Twitter every day,” Dorsey wrote. “We’ve been working to counteract this for the past 2 years.”

The social media giant has been under scrutiny since the 2016 presidential election when the public called on them, as well as Facebook, to handle accounts linked to Russia. Recently, Twitter has also come under fire after temporarily locking the account of actress Rose McGowan, who had publicly tweeted that she had been raped by Harvey Weinstein.

Dorsey announced that Twitter would “take a more aggressive stance” to reevaluate its existing rules and policies, including how they are enforced.

“New rules around: unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that [glorify] violence,” Dorsey wrote.

Ashley Widmer, a biology major, has been using the platform for four years and said that Twitter’s actions could create a more positive environment for its users.

“I’ve seen hateful and ignorant things posted on the site with responses from other users. They were able to have the tweet removed or the offending user suspended,” Widmer said. “I think that Twitter’s increased protection for their users is a positive because it allows for a more safe, appropriate space online, which is rare.”

Twitter formed the Trust and Safety Council, a conglomerate of advocacy groups, researchers and the like, in 2016 to help identify the balance with censorship and free speech. The company’s head of safety policy sent an email to the council following Dorsey’s tweetstorm that outlined proposed revisions.

This included permanently suspending accounts that originally posted non-consensual nudity, where current rules would only require the original posters (and people who unknowingly tweet the content) to delete the sensitive tweet and be temporarily suspended.

There is also a new approach to hate speech, symbols and imagery, as well as violent groups and content that glorified violence. Twitter said that it was “still defining the exact scope of what will be covered by this policy,” alluding to the grey areas in which the company would have to distinguish what is and isn’t harmful or an infringement on free speech.

Wright Franklin is the station manager at UAA’s KRUA and has experienced challenges with free speech and social media within the professional world.

A volunteer from last year had been dismissed and took to social media, Franklin said.

“They weren’t happy about their dismissal and they chose to kind of take it out on us on a Facebook post that we made… It was something along the lines of ‘Why can’t you just play good music?’ and a few people who weren’t staff started an argument,” Franklin said.

In another instance, someone had used their personal Twitter account in an inappropriate, harassing manner and KRUA’s Facebook page was linked in their biography.

“We had to look at ‘Do we have a policy about this?’, which we didn’t, so we had to make one,” Franklin said. “It then got interesting, telling this volunteer that we had to let him go because of the stuff that he was doing, but we didn’t have a policy to turn to.”

Social media is one of the many ways in which users can express their thoughts and opinions, yet it poses a question of what is personally and professionally appropriate.

Kendra Doshier has seen the effects and growth of these platforms in the 10 years that she has been a social media specialist and strategist. She has been with UAA’s advancement team for over a year.

“I’ve witnessed how ugly Twitter can get and how Facebook can make smear campaigns frighteningly easy. Over the years we’ve seen social media ruin lives and destroy brands, but on the flip side, we’ve seen it make regular people famous, start pop culture trends, expose and change societal flaws, and inspire really important movements,” Doshier said.

Twitter has been criticized for its inconsistency in handling users that violate policies and Franklin described it as the “wild west” when it comes to immediate action against harmful content.

“I think Twitter’s sort of been like the wild west as far as letting people do what they want,” Franklin said. “You have to go really, really far—probably too far already for Twitter to notice you and start banning you.”

Dorsey also recognized this when a user expressed this same concern. He responded, saying that “consistent interpretation and enforcement of our rules is our objective.”

While Widmer hopes that the company’s efforts will bring positive consequences, her experience has exposed her to the outside world and its influences. Hopefully others will be more open-minded, she said.

“Social media has exposed me to voices, opinions, ideas, and experiences of such a wide variety of people. The way it is able to disseminate information and news makes it a powerful tool in our society,” Widmer said. “I hope that it acts as a sanctuary for its users, but also a place to step out of your comfort zone and try to see the world through another person’s eyes.”

For Doshier, social media should be used for good and users have to be mindful of the way they represent themselves. The internet is full of information, good and bad, and it’s important to use it wisely.

“Use it to maximize your communications, to stay informed, to connect with those you want to learn more from,” Doshier said.

The First Amendment will likely remain a concern for Twitter users that believe their rights are being violated.

Franklin said that although he supports the notion of free speech, he doesn’t approve of situations in which people use it against others.

“I think that they [Twitter] will get the same feedback that KRUA did when we instated our policy, that they’re policing people… and you’re not allowed to exercise your right to free speech anymore, but it’s never been about that,” Franklin said. “Free speech is great and wonderful and I’ll advocate nine times out of 10 for that, but the one time out of 10 that I won’t is when you’re using free speech to hurt other people.”

Dorsey tweeted on Friday that Twitter will implement some of their new policies on Nov. 22. The company’s policy development process and calendar of their progress is available to the public on blog.twitter.com.