Twitter can be a cesspool for hate speech. If you spend any meaningful amount of time on the social network or enter a few choice words into its search bar, you’ll undoubtedly find some form of harassment or abuse that violates some Twitter rule.
The problem for Twitter has always been in enforcing those rules. Rarely known for its decisive action, the company in the past has acted ham-handedly to complaints of hateful content or, in some cases, not at all, triggering waves of confusion and mistrust among users.
On Tuesday, Twitter announced an expansion of policies around hateful content that dehumanizes others based on their religion. Following this update, the company will require the removal of tweets that dehumanize whole religious groups, like those seen below, when they’re reported to the company.
While some Twitter users may be wondering how this wasn’t already a policy — its current terms of service already prohibit threats on the basis of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and other characteristics — a company spokesperson noted that today’s policy change was meant to set a clearer standard for enforcement against hateful content based on religion, not just direct attacks. Twitter, the spokesperson said, had not been consistent in explaining why some tweets pertaining to religious groups were taken down in the past or left up.
The company said it's starting with religious groups and will see how the new policy goes into effect before deciding to expand the rule to address other protected groups.
Twitter’s changes comes in light of several policy adjustments, including one last month in which the company announced that it would place warning labels on tweets from world leaders that violated its rules in order to “protect the health of public conversation.” The San Francisco–based company said that the latest update was the result of more than 8,000 responses from around the world to a public survey and months of conversations with external experts.
“Many people raised concerns about our ability to enforce our rules fairly and consistently, so we developed a longer, more in-depth training process with our teams to make sure they were better informed when reviewing reports,” Twitter wrote in a company blog post. “For this update it was especially important to spend time reviewing examples of what could potentially go against this rule.”
Reported tweets that were made before the rule was set will be required to be removed by the company, according to a spokesperson, though they will not trigger any suspensions or further action against an account. Multiple violations of the new policy regarding religious groups after Tuesday may result in suspensions or outright bans.
One group, online racial justice organization Color of Change, criticized Twitter for not going far enough to "ban all forms of dehumanization immediately."
“Color Of Change ultimately measures success by how safe Twitter’s platform is for Black Americans, and this policy change, while a step in the right direction, still leaves us exposed to harm from white nationalism and white supremacy, election misinformation, and online harassment," Color of Change President Rashad Robinson said in a statement. "Twitter’s update is too simplistic for the complicated world we live in, and fails to address the nuanced intersections of its users’ identities."