In an e-mail sent to Twitter employees, obtained by the Associated Press, the Trust and Safety team at the beleaguered tech company laid out their plans for combating harassment, hate speech, and abuse on its platform. Many of the changes outlined focus on policy and enforcement, though Wired explains that these changes "stop short of sweeping measures, such as banning pornography or specific groups like Nazis." Still, the new rules are a major shift from the more passive stance they held around suspending and banning accounts belonging to abusive users.
For example, they're changing their policy regarding non-consensual nudity, taking on a much more aggressive stance by "immediately and permanently suspend any account we identify as the original poster/source of non-consensual nudity and/or if a user makes it clear they are intentionally posting said content to harass their target." They emphasize that while it may be difficult to determine harassment — as "there's an entire genre of pornography dedicated to this type of content" — they're more interested in protecting people by erring "on the side of protecting victims and removing this type of content when we become aware of it."
On paper, it's a refreshing change, especially because they're moving to protect users as opposed to caving to sketchy, shady interpretations of their own Terms of Service. For one reason or another, it often seems like the team enforcing those policies have differing opinions on what those terms actually say. Back in 2015, the Atlantic reported on Twitter's poor responses to abuse, which ranged from non-action to placing the undue burden of reporting the harassing tweet on the harassed party themselves, forcing them to re-experience whatever abuse they had just went through. They used the example of Zelda Williams, who deleted her account after she was sent graphic images of a dead body shortly after news broke of her father's death. Then, Twitter policy said that she had to be the one to report the images, which required re-opening the tweets and seeing their content all over again. Rather than do that, she decided to leave Twitter entirely.
That exposed the gaping hole in Twitter's enforcement policy, and even way back then, Twitter released one of its now-trite apologies and statements promising that they're working to make things better.
Such sentiments echoed far off into the future, with the latest being a series of "mea culpa"-like tweets from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, where he mentioned the impending changes. Now, just as before, Twitter continues to apologize for the condition of its social network, and just like before, they've made grand overtures towards "making changes" and "doing better." Ultimately, though, what's going to bring about change is enforcement. What's going to make Twitter better isn't rule changes for the sake of rule changes; what matters will be the follow-through.
Included among the policy changes is a new rule regarding hate symbols and imagery being used on the platform. They write: "At a high level, hateful imagery, hate symbols, etc will now be considered sensitive media (similar to how we handle and enforce adult content and graphic violence)." They also mention that this isn't the only change affecting hate imagery, and that there are "more details to come." Currently, sensitive media is filtered out on Twitter by default, which is a setting that can be turned off later. Placing hate symbols in that category certainly prevents people from seeing those things, but it doesn't remove them from the platform, at least not entirely. Given the many accusations leveled at Twitter for allowing Nazis on their social network — some members of Congress had to appeal to Twitter to get them to do something about racial prejudice being spread through their platform — this move to only filter hate symbols feels ineffective, as those accounts will still exist. They'll still thrive and do what they've always been doing.
CNet spoke with the Anti-Defamation League's CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, who commented on the changes, saying, "We are pleased to see Twitter is responding with new concrete actions, including aggressive enforcement of their rules and hiding hate symbols. Given the seriousness of the threat, there is much more to do." The ADL has had its own issues with Twitter, as last year, they released a report that said they found 2.6 million anti-Semitic messages on their platform, with many of those directed at journalists.
When it comes to enforcement of its extant policies, thus far, it doesn't seem like Twitter is particularly interested or capable. Until that changes, these rule changes are just paper tigers waiting to be blown over by the people who make the platform so exhaustingly terrible.
You can read the e-mail detailing all the changes in full below:
Dear Trust & Safety Council members,
I’d like to follow up on Jack’s Friday night Tweetstorm about upcoming policy and enforcement changes. Some of these have already been discussed with you via previous conversations about the Twitter Rules update. Others are the result of internal conversations that we had throughout last week.
Here’s some more information about the policies Jack mentioned as well as a few other updates that we’ll be rolling out in the weeks ahead.
- Current approach *We treat people who are the original, malicious posters of non-consensual nudity the same as we do people who may unknowingly Tweet the content. In both instances, people are required to delete the Tweet(s) in question and are temporarily locked out of their accounts. They are permanently suspended if they post non-consensual nudity again.
- Updated approach *We will immediately and permanently suspend any account we identify as the original poster/source of non-consensual nudity and/or if a user makes it clear they are intentionally posting said content to harass their target. We will do a full account review whenever we receive a Tweet-level report about non-consensual nudity. If the account appears to be dedicated to posting non-consensual nudity then we will suspend the entire account immediately.
*Our definition of “non-consensual nudity” is expanding to more broadly include content like upskirt imagery, “creep shots,” and hidden camera content. Given that people appearing in this content often do not know the material exists, we will not require a report from a target in order to remove it.
*While we recognize there’s an entire genre of pornography dedicated to this type of content, it’s nearly impossible for us to distinguish when this content may/may not have been produced and distributed consensually. We would rather error on the side of protecting victims and removing this type of content when we become aware of it.
Unwanted sexual advances
- Current approach *Pornographic content is generally permitted on Twitter, and it’s challenging to know whether or not sexually charged conversations and/or the exchange of sexual media may be wanted. To help infer whether or not a conversation is consensual, we currently rely on and take enforcement action only if/when we receive a report from a participant in the conversation.
- Updated approach *We are going to update the Twitter Rules to make it clear that this type of behavior is unacceptable. We will continue taking enforcement action when we receive a report from someone directly involved in the conversation. Once our improvements to bystander reporting go live, we will also leverage past interaction signals (eg things like block, mute, etc) to help determine whether something may be unwanted and action the content accordingly.
Hate symbols and imagery (new)*We are still defining the exact scope of what will be covered by this policy. At a high level, hateful imagery, hate symbols, etc will now be considered sensitive media (similar to how we handle and enforce adult content and graphic violence). More details to come.
Violent groups (new)*We are still defining the exact scope of what will be covered by this policy. At a high level, we will take enforcement action against organizations that use/have historically used violence as a means to advance their cause. More details to come here as well (including insight into the factors we will consider to identify such groups).
Tweets that glorify violence (new)*We already take enforcement action against direct violent threats (“I’m going to kill you”), vague violent threats (“Someone should kill you”) and wishes/hopes of serious physical harm, death, or disease (“I hope someone kills you”). Moving forward, we will also take action against content that glorifies (“Praise be to for shooting up. He’s a hero!”) and/or condones (“Murdering makes sense. That way they won’t be a drain on social services”). More details to come.
We realize that a more aggressive policy and enforcement approach will result in the removal of more content from our service. We are comfortable making this decision, assuming that we will only be removing abusive content that violates our Rules. To help ensure this is the case, our product and operational teams will be investing heavily in improving our appeals process and turnaround times for their reviews.
In addition to launching new policies, updating enforcement processes and improving our appeals process, we have to do a better job explaining our policies and setting expectations for acceptable behavior on our service. In the coming weeks, we will be:
- updating the Twitter Rules as we previously discussed (+ adding in these new policies)
- updating the Twitter media policy to explain what we consider to be adult content, graphic violence, and hate symbols.
- launching a standalone Help Center page to explain the factors we consider when making enforcement decisions and describe our range of enforcement options launching new policy-specific Help Center pages to describe each policy in greater detail, provide examples of what crosses the line, and set expectations for enforcement consequences
- Updating outbound language to people who violate our policies (what we say when accounts are locked, suspended, appealed, etc).
We have a lot of work ahead of us and will definitely be turning to you all for guidance in the weeks ahead. We will do our best to keep you looped in on our progress.
All the best,
Head of Safety Policy