In a sharp policy reversal, Twitter is set to begin doing something that it told Campaign Against Antisemitism it would never do: proactively removing extremists from the platform.
In December 2014, Sinéad McSweeney, Twitter’s Director of Public Policy for Europe told us in an e-mail: “Your emphasis on proactive monitoring and reporting is not compatible with our basic structure and policies as a platform. I therefore think it is not possible to take this any further.” We had been in discussions with senior personnel at Twitter, involving the then CEO, proposing that Twitter use algorithms to seek out and remove antisemitic users and content on their platform in the same way that they already remove child pornography and material that violates copyright. However, Ms McSweeney strongly resisted our request that Twitter begin proactively removing online hatred.
However, Twitter is now set to introduce changes to its rules that will permit it to trawl content, both on Twitter and on other websites, so that members of extremist organisations can be stopped from using Twitter. The new rule states: “You also may not affiliate with organizations [sic] that — whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform — use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes.” Another new rule bans “hateful images or symbols in your profile image or profile header” or using a “username, display name, or profile bio to engage in abusive behavior, such as targeted harassment or expressing hate towards a person, group, or protected category.” The rules will take effect from 18th December, reportedly due to EU laws affecting changes to companies’ terms and conditions.
Whereas Twitter has previously required users to post something that breaks the rules, which other users then have to report to Twitter, under the new rules, Twitter may ban users simply for having an affiliation to extremist groups.
Twitter has an extremely poor record on removing antisemitism, and in the past has made new announcements on the fight against online hatred only to fail to deliver any meaningful change, but we do consider Twitter’s rule change to be significant. Twitter has finally acknowledged that it is time for them to proactively remove users who are inciting violence, such as terrorism. How effectively they do so remains to be seen, but we are pleased that Ms McSweeney finally appears to have lost the argument against proactive monitoring.