Twitter’s new “hate speech” policy is going to cause more problems than it solves
posted at 2:41 pm on January 4, 2016 by Jazz Shaw
One of the other things some of you may have missed over the holidays was the announcement from Twitter that they were going to be beefing up their enforcement policies and cracking down on violent speech. Or speech that promotes violence. Or something. On the surface that sounds great, since it’s already verboten to make death threats against people (or threats of other violence) or to try to raise up an army. But as with most things in the era of the Social Justice Warriors it never stops there, does it? (CNN)
In a blog post Tuesday, Twitter said it has updated its policy in an attempt to stop people from tweeting abusive and violent posts.
“The updated language emphasizes that Twitter will not tolerate behavior intended to harass, intimidate, or use fear to silence another user’s voice,” said Megan Cristina, Twitter’s trust and safety director said in its blog post. “As always, we embrace and encourage diverse opinions and beliefs — but we will continue to take action on accounts that cross the line into abuse.”
In case you’re wondering if I’m just paranoid and this policy is a perfectly harmless and legitimate attempt to stop murders and terrorism, you can check out the company blog post on the subject here.
Today, as part of our continued efforts to combat abuse, we’re updating the Twitter Rules to clarify what we consider to be abusive behaviour and hateful conduct. The updated language emphasizes that Twitter will not tolerate behavior intended to harass, intimidate, or use fear to silence another user’s voice. As always, we embrace and encourage diverse opinions and beliefs –but we will continue to take action on accounts that cross the line into abuse.
As you can see, it took no time at all to make the leap from “threats of violence” to harassment, intimidation or attempts to “silence another user’s voice” on the social network. That sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it? It’s almost as if some users might feel unsafe if they are exposed to opinions different than their own and need Twitter to set up a safe space for them.
Still, some people seem to find the policy to be a good thing, such as our friend Leon Wolf at Redstate.
While I am aware of the well-justified concerns of many conservative activists about the potential abuses of Twitter’s new “Hate Speech” policy, I applaud Twitter for finally doing something about a problem that was making Twitter unenjoyable and borderline unusable: perpetually abusive anonymous (often racist) trolls…
[T]he power to troll anonymously on the Internet is apparently too tempting for human nature to resist. As a result, Twitter has ceased to be a fun – or even tolerable – environment. If you have enough followers to make the free-flowing exchange of ideas fun, then you also have enough trolls that reading your mentions column will instantly put you in a bad mood. No one wants to spend significant amounts of time on a service that does nothing but give them negative emotional feedback.
I’m a big fan of Leon’s, but I’m afraid I’ll have to take exception to his interpretation here. He seems to find trolls annoying and feels that their presence on the network is what’s killing Twitter’s revenue stream and driving away users. But honestly, how much of a hassle is this for most folks? You only see the people you follow in your lists, and if trolls come into your mentions (assuming you watch your mentions) you can quickly report, block or simply mute them. (That last one is my new favorite feature.) If some insulting yahoo can ruin your day by showing up in your timeline then social media might not be the right pool for you to swim in.
But the much larger area of concern is the question of free speech and open debate. Right out of the gate Leon starts by mentioning, the well-justified concerns of many conservative activists about the potential abuses of Twitter’s new “Hate Speech” policy. Those concerns are well justified indeed, since we’re not talking about death threats. We’re talking about reporting people for “abuse” when it falls to Twitter and Twitter alone to decide what constitutes abuse or hateful speech. And the arrows generally only fly in one direction on that front as we all know.
If some liberal comes barging into my mentions column and says they are working to allow unrestricted immigration from Syria into the United States, I suppose I’ll feel a little “unsafe” at the thought of their succeeding, but I’m not going to report them. I may call them an idiot or engage them in a debate or just hit the mute button on them, but I won’t go running to Daddy Twitter to get their account banned. But what happens if they decide to jump in on a link I post to an article where I reiterate my belief that “transgenderism” isn’t a thing or that the Black Lives Matter movement is engaging in thuggish, dangerous behavior by shutting down shopping malls and roadways or chanting for “pigs” to be fried like bacon? Am I expressing my opinions? Of course not. I’m engaging in hate speech and making them feel threatened. Which way will Big Daddy Twitter go when the complaint about my tweet comes in?
We might get an idea of how “tolerant” the Twitter management is by looking at some of the advertising policies they’ve already put in place. Did you know you can’t advertise tobacco products on Twitter?
Twitter prohibits the promotion of tobacco brands and the online and offline sale of tobacco and tobacco accessories globally.
This policy applies, but is not limited, to:
– Tobacco of any kind
– Cigars, cigarettes and cigarillos
– Tobacco manufacturers
– Electronic cigarettes, even when marketed for smoking cessation
– Pipes and rolling papers
– Cigar bars and hookah lounges
Sure, most of the world wants to cut down on smoking, but at least here in the United States (and virtually everywhere else for that matter) tobacco is still legal. And yet Twitter has taken the initiative to simply ban people from advertising a legal product. How do you suppose they come down on SJW issues?
We’ll probably find out soon enough.