Tech, Now + Beyond

When will Twitter start enforcing their policies around abuse and harassment?

Shoutout to all our haters on Twitter.

We already know how aggressive Twitter can get. We’ve seen public figures receive disgusting hate messages, friends get cyber bullied, and endless angry debates on Facebook. So long as hatred, violence, and anger exist, hateful, violent, and angry tweets will, too.

Then what should Twitter do about it?

Twitter is a platform giving everyone a platform to share their thoughts freely, and instantly. So it might be argued then that Twitter shouldn’t censor anything. However, the company has explicit policies detailing that they reserve the right to take down content and suspend users for content misuse, abuse, and spam. Specifically, in the abuse section, they make the following statement:

Twitter

Free speech for Twitter, just as is in American law, does have some restrictions. It is balanced with safety, individual rights, and creating a positive space. For example, the U.S. has copyright laws and a law prohibiting you from yelling “fire” in a public space when there is no fire. So in a similar sense, Twitter seems to be following the rule of free speech with reasonable limits.

Technically, though, you are allowed to say hateful things in public without getting arrested. This is where Twitter is different. The company says it does not tolerate “abuse,” which is defined as violent threats (direct or indirect), harassment, hateful conduct, multiple account abuse, private information, impersonation, and self-harm.

Twitter, as an independent corporation, is not required to follow the First Amendment, and it gets to define its own rules of speech. They are well within their right to restrict abuse.

However, within the past election cycle, Twitter got backlash for not exercising this right enough. We’ve all seen the increase in disgustingly racist and misogynistic comments people made since the elections, and one of the spaces they could do that was Twitter. With almost no censorship, people were motivated to tweet the hate so everyone could see it.

The company then decided to take more action against the hatred being spewed. Several alt-right accounts, most notably Milo Yiannopoulos’s, were suspended in 2016. Now, there are even people pushing for the removal of Donald Trump’s account, which, yes, is filled with tweets that would meet Twitter’s definition of abuse.

This uptick in account suspensions is where the debate comes in. Several conservative users argue that Twitter is stifling their right to political expression and is being biased towards supporting more liberal voices.

Again, Twitter has the right to do that. If they want to be a biased outlet, they can.

Remember, Twitter has quickly and efficiently suspended thousands of ISIS-linked accounts these past two years. Both an ISIS supporter and a neo-Nazi can tweet violence, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to act upon it. However, Twitter has determined itself to be the sort of platform that has limits to its free speech, and to actively limit the violence.

If the company is working hard to remove ISIS and ISIS supporting accounts, it should also work hard at preventing the violent speech made by violent racists who call themselves conservative.

In regards to “milder” racist and aggressive tweets, Twitter again holds the right to suspend the users. And I believe they should. Defenses that removing these tweets does not allow for dialogue to happen among Americans are ridiculous because when have you ever seen a loud and proud racist engage in dialogue with someone who isn’t? It is also not completely stifling the voices of a specific group. Milo Yiannopoulos is still heard plenty without his Twitter account.

To be clear, Twitter shouldn’t limit the voices of right-wing members. It should limit aggression, racism, and hatred on all sides.

If Twitter really wants to stick with its stance on fighting abuse, then all hatred should be treated equally, whether it is coming from a random guy with 2 followers spewing vitriol behind his laptop or the president of a country.

  • Talah Bakdash

    Talah Bakdash is a current undergraduate at Emory University studying creative writing and psychology. Middle Eastern Midwesterner as she is, she most enjoys reading The Things They Carried while listening to Fairouz on her deck overlooking Kansas flatlands. With this, she is passionate about stories, whether they come in the form of a war novel, a 1960s Arabic song, or a conversation over black tea.