Twitter announced that it plans to hide messages that are posted by politicians who violate the company’s abuse or harassment policies. Such tweets will be hidden behind a warning label, but will not be removed from the service, since Twitter still considers them a matter of public interest. The notices will inform readers if a tweet violates rules regarding harassment or violent threats, and then readers will have the option of clicking through to access the questionable message. The move could complicate the current debate over political bias on Twitter in addition to the balance other social platforms are struggling with between free speech and offensive content.
“In the past, we’ve allowed certain Tweets that violated our rules to remain on Twitter because they were in the public’s interest, but it wasn’t clear when and how we made those determinations,” Twitter explained in a blog post. “There are certain cases where it may be in the public’s interest to have access to certain Tweets, even if they would otherwise be in violation of our rules.”
According to Twitter, the new policy only applies to verified accounts of government officials, or those running for public office or being considered for a government position who have more than 100,000 followers. “That said, there are cases, such as direct threats of violence or calls to commit violence against an individual, that are unlikely to be considered in the public interest,” adds the blog post.
In addition to hiding inappropriate tweets behind notices, the company will no longer promote them. According to Twitter, the messages will be removed from its safe search feature, recommended push notifications, top tweets timeline and other promotional tools.
“Twitter’s announcement comes as many tech companies, including Facebook and Google, which operates YouTube, have struggled to balance free speech with their own policies against hateful and offensive content,” notes The New York Times.
Earlier this week, we reported that Facebook has been working to create an independent, transparent committee to help guide its content decisions. Yesterday, the social giant released a report about its efforts to create such an oversight board. However, after seven months of collecting suggestions from hundreds of scholars, journalists and free speech advocates, the company “said there has been little consensus of how it should govern speech on its platform, how it should be held accountable for its decisions and how involved the company should be in the overall council,” The Wall Street Journal points out.
Meanwhile, YouTube recently “banned videos that promote white supremacy and neo-Nazism, after users expressed outrage that such content was easily accessible on the site,” notes NYT. “But the company opted to keep up videos by a prominent conservative creator in which he used homophobic slurs to describe a journalist. YouTube called the videos ‘offensive’ but ruled that they did not violate its policies.”
As social media platforms struggle with these issues, Twitter is also contending with accusations of political bias. “Some critics say the company has allowed politicians, including President Trump, to post messages that break the company’s terms of service,” explains NYT. “Other world leaders, including President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran, have used Twitter to share content that would typically be removed by Twitter if it were posted by average users.”