Twitter to crack down on terrorist threats, hate speech

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Twitter has clarified its ban on threats and abuse amid calls for a tougher stance on extremists’ use of the platform.

The social media giant announced in a blog post Wednesday that it will deactivate the accounts of users who engage in “hateful conduct” or whose “primary purpose is inciting harm towards others.”

{mosads}Twitter has regularly faced accusations that it doesn’t do enough to combat harassment by and against its users. Even the company’s most senior executives have acknowledged Twitter’s failings in the area.

“We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform, and we’ve sucked at it for years,” said then-CEO Dick Costolo in February. “It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day.”

For the first time, the company’s policy now says that users “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.”

A report released this year by the group Women, Action and the Media found that 27 percent of harassment reports involved hate speech, making it the most common infraction in the group’s study.

Twitter has also been under pressure to do more to police terrorist-related content on its site amid growing fears that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is using the service to incite “lone wolf” attacks.

Following the attack earlier this month in San Bernardino, Calif., Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) reintroduced legislation that would force social media companies to notify federal authorities of terrorist activity on their networks.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, is reaching out to Silicon Valley companies about ways that they could help U.S. officials combat the threat of such attacks.

Twitter’s new rules do not specifically name ISIS, which relies heavily on the platform to communicate and spread propaganda. The company earlier in the year placed a formal ban on content that “promotes terrorism.”

The new policy does explicitly ban “creating multiple accounts with overlapping uses,” a common tactic used to avoid the penalty of account suspension. Experts say Twitter has been playing a game of whack-a-mole with extremist accounts: It shuts one down only to have the same user crop up again under a new handle.

The updated rules also do not reflect any changes to Twitter’s enforcement policies.

A March study from the Brookings Institution estimated that from September through December 2014, ISIS supporters used at least 46,000 Twitter accounts, though not all of them were active at the same time.

Some civil liberties activists have expressed concerns that deactivating large groups of ISIS-associated accounts could hinder an outlet for free speech in regions where dissidents rely on Twitter to make their voices heard.

Twitter has been outspoken about the need to protect its integrity as a platform for open speech.

“As always, we embrace and encourage diverse opinions and beliefs — but we will continue to take action on accounts that cross the line into abuse,” the company said Wednesday.

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