Twitter Moves Into New Year With Revised Speech Rules

Shortly before the end of 2015, Twitter announced a revision to its user code of conduct.  In a blog post last Wednesday, Megan Cristina, Twitter’s Director of Trust & Safety, announced the new rules were intended to “clarify” the social media giant’s view of what actions are “abusive” or “hateful.”

In its “Abusive Behavior” policy, Twitter frames its rules as a way to ensure an environment where “people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs.”  There are a number of situations the company addresses, such as violent threats (including inciting terrorism), harassment, release of private information, and suicidal individuals.  Twitter also inserted a new “Hateful Conduct” policy that states, “You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.” 

Regarding enforcement, the rules are now explicit that Twitter may temporarily lock or permanently suspend abusive accounts (and related accounts).  Twitter notes in its “Safety Center” that when receiving complaints, “How we react depends on the severity of the violation.”  The company also has tools by which users may filter content that they may not like, but is not deemed to be a code breach. 

How will the new rules affect free speech on the social media platform?  There has been mixed reaction.  For example, Leon Wolf, Managing Editor of conservative RedState.com, believes “the risk is worth the reward,” suggesting that the company did not need these new rules to selectively police conservative speech, while Frank Gaffney, President of the Center for Security Policy, declares that the new code is “reminiscent of Orwellian thought-control.”

The NRB John Milton Project for Free Speech has shown that several social media corporations have at times engaged in viewpoint censorship, particularly against Christian and conservative speech.  For example, the Project documented that, during the public debate over a Houston ordinance establishing sexual orientation and gender identity as special protected classes, Twitter temporarily blocked an online petition supporting local pastors whose sermons had been subpoenaed by city officials.

“The proof will be in the pudding.  What Twitter’s platform monitors deem to be ‘abusive’ and how they enforce their judgements will be the true clarification of their intent,” observed Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, NRB President & CEO. “I have no doubt they will receive pressure to hinder or silence ideas disliked by liberal elites.  We will be watching to make sure they uphold the spirit of the First Amendment.”

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: January 8, 2016

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