Twitter is having a difficult time policing its service. The social media company has come under attack for allowing white nationalists, extremists, terrorists, and would-be felons from using the platform to spread misinformation and hate across the globe. One of the most prominent issues for Twitter is when political figures break the platform’s Terms of Service (ToS). While a regular user would be suspended or banned for this kind of behavior, these users are generally given a free pass to do as they please. Many people believe that it is dangerous and unfair to give political users a golden ticket, since they usually have a far greater reach than a typical user. Twitter’s new policy searches for a middle ground, allowing these power-users to stay on the platform, but attempts to manage who sees the content.
On a Twitter blog post, the company admitted that the platform allowed Tweets that violated the ToS to remain on Twitter in the past, but said it was because “they were in the public’s interest” to see them.
Twitter explained why keeping these Tweets online is best for the public by stating, “Serving the public conversation includes providing the ability for anyone to talk about what matters to them; this can be especially important when engaging with government officials and political figures.” The company continued, “By nature of their positions these leaders have outsized influence and sometimes say things that could be considered controversial or invite debate and discussion. A critical function of our service is providing a place where people can openly and publicly respond to their leaders and hold them accountable.”
Twitter thinks everyone should see what government users say, even when it is hateful, hurtful, or false. With the new policy, Twitter is still keeping all of these Tweets live on the platform, but changing their view-ability.
In the new policy, when a Tweet from a government official breaks the ToS, the Tweet goes in a public Twitter jail. The company stated, “On the rare occasions when this happens, we’ll place a notice – a screen you have to click or tap through before you see the Tweet – to provide additional context and clarity. We’ll also take steps to make sure the Tweet is not algorithmically elevated on our service, to strike the right balance between enabling free expression, fostering accountability, and reducing the potential harm caused by these Tweets. ”
Other sites do this with NSFW content. Reddit, for example, usually blocks explicit images or videos from being seen before a user clicks on a button and agrees to view the content. When Twitter states that the Tweets aren’t “algorithmically elevated,” the company means that the Tweet shouldn’t appear in Safe search; the Timeline when switched to Top Tweets; the Live events pages; in Recommended Tweet push notifications; the Notifications tab; or the Explore tab. Meanwhile, the person that broke the ToS is allowed to remain on Twitter, and continue to Tweet just like everyone else. Users are also free to share the message, allowing misinformation and hate to spread from follower to follower, just as before.
The people that get to enjoy breaking the rules but remain on Twitter include government officials, someone running for public office, or someone being considered for a government position. The account must be verified and have over 100K followers.
Twitter did state that Tweets that include “direct threats of violence or calls to commit violence against an individual,” are “unlikely” to be included in this system. Twitter used the word “unlikely” I guess because the company can’t be sure if dangerous threats against other humans will be allowed in the future.
Twitter’s policy for determining the Tweets that go into Twitter jail include:
- The immediacy and severity of potential harm from the rule violation, with an emphasis on ensuring physical safety;
- Whether preserving a Tweet will allow others to hold the government official, candidate for public office, or appointee accountable for their statements;
- Whether there are other sources of information about this statement available for the public to stay informed;
- If removal would inadvertently hide context or prevent people from understanding an issue of public concern; and
- If the Tweet provides a unique context or perspective not available elsewhere that is necessary to a broader discussion.
In the end, politics is key to Twitter’s success, and the platform can’t risk isolating parties or groups that use the service daily and pay for advertising and promoted campaigns. In hopes to smooth things over, Twitter is trying to keep people that would complain, from seeing the content in the first place.
The company’s new program allows government officials to spread racists, corrupt, or misinformation on a daily basis, and all of it is free for anyone to see with a click of a button. Instead of taking action against the spread of misinformation and hate on its service, Twitter is shifting the blame to users by making them agree to see it. Many users would point out that the real problem is that this information spreads, infecting borderline individuals and pushes them closer into becoming extremists themselves. With the Tweets still available to see, it’s unlikely that this policy will do anything but make users click one more button, meanwhile, Twitter gets to say that its hands are tied when government officials lie to the public or spread hateful messages.
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