Twitter Executives Say Policies Need to Constantly Evolve to Counter ‘Hate Speech’

August 9, 2018 Last Updated: August 9, 2018

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Vice President Del Harvey said they plan to further “evolve” the social-media platform’s policies to counter “hate speech,” after discussions with company employees regarding controversial radio host Alex Jones.

While Facebook, Apple, Google, Spotify, and others booted many of Jones’ pages, channels, and podcasts for violating “hate-speech” policies, Twitter didn’t follow, because Jones “hasn’t violated our rules,” Dorsey said in an Aug. 8 tweet.

After pushback from some employees, however, Dorsey said he’s “definitely not happy” with current Twitter policies, which need to “constantly evolve.”

On Aug. 9, Harvey published an email to employees saying the company had “a number of conversations with staff about Alex Jones” and decided to accelerate plans to review a new policy against “dehumanizing speech” to “help customers feel safe as it relates to hate speech.”

She said that “speech that treats or describes others as less than human” has been linked with violence, such as in historical examples of mass violence. Moreover, the company has found it “concerning” and “problematic,” in its own user research.

The company is also evaluating whether it should consider “off-platform behavior” when enforcing policies.

Jones, known for his hot-headed outbursts, faces a defamation suit by parents of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, some of whom he accused of being “crisis actors.” Jones later repeatedly apologized to the families in his videos.

But Facebook stated it didn’t shut Jones down for making false claims, but “for glorifying violence, which violates our graphic-violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate-speech policies.”

The company didn’t provide any examples of Jones’s content that violates their policies.

Jones denounced the tech company’s move as a broader attempt to silence him—an attempt that appears to have backfired, as internet searches for his name skyrocketed since the ban, along with the popularity of his iPhone and Android apps.

Uncertain Future

The murky “hate-speech” policies used against Jones have worried conservatives, libertarians, and other free-speech advocates, who increasingly see the tech companies as playing the role of arbiter while pretending to run content-neutral platforms.

“Those who refuse to see this as the first step toward a more aggressive campaign of de-platforming conservatives are being obtuse,” said Sonny Bunch, executive editor of the Washington Free Beacon, in an Aug. 8 Washington Post op-ed. “There is a growing belief that speech can be considered violence, that racist speech is by definition violence and that conservative thought is inherently racist. I don’t need a whiteboard or lizard people to connect the dots.”

Twitter’s practices of suppressing “bad-faith actors,” automated “bot” accounts, and obscuring search results based on “quality,” have been exposed to have heavily hit right-leaning users, while letting similar behavior by left-leaning users slide. Twitter has addressed some of those issues, but the phenomenon doesn’t appear to have abated.

If proven to favor or suppress users of a particular political persuasion, the platforms could be legally considered as publishers. That may open the door to lawsuits that the companies previously dodged by claiming that as neutral platforms they’re not responsible for user-created content.

Both Facebook and Twitter recently have experienced dramatic drops in market value. Facebook is down nearly 16 percent since July 25, while Twitter stock has fallen by almost 28 percent in the same period.

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The freedom of belief was at the center of the United States’ founding.