Twitter moves to ban 'dehumanizing' language toward religious groups

Twitter moves to ban 'dehumanizing' language toward religious groups

Twitter on Tuesday announced it will begin removing tweets that feature "dehumanizing" language toward religious groups, marking the company's latest effort to combat the scourge of harassment and bigoted content that has plagued its platform for years.

In a blog post, Twitter announced that it has updated its rules against "hateful conduct," saying the tweak is the result of extensive conversations with experts and the public.

ADVERTISEMENT

Twitter offered an array of tweets that would be removed under the new policy, including one that says, "We need to exterminate the rats. The [Religious group] are disgusting."

Another example reads, "[Religious group] are viruses. They're making this country sick."

Twitter has hinted at a potential policy against "dehumanization" for months, saying that framework can help it weed out hateful content that does not necessarily include threats of violence or explicit slurs.

Twitter uses a combination of artificial intelligence and human review in order to determine which posts are taken down. All decisions at this point are ultimately made by personnel.

The policy change puts Twitter in line with Facebook and YouTube, both of which have policies barring content that dehumanizes people based on protected characteristics such as race or religion. 

Twitter on Tuesday said that it is planning to expand the dehumanization policy to other marginalized groups at some point but is working to address ongoing questions before that happens. 

The company is looking into how it can distinguish when marginalized groups are using "reclaimed terminology" and how its policy could define groups that are "historically marginalized," according to the post.

"There are additional factors we need to better understand and be able to address before we expand this rule to address language directed at other protected groups," Twitter wrote.

Critics have pressured the top social media companies for years over their policies on hate speech, saying the platforms' rules do not provide adequate definitions and, even when they do, they are not properly enforced. 

Muslim Advocates, one of the top tech critics focused on online hate, called Twitter's policy update "a very positive step in the right direction" in a statement on Tuesday.  

"Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and other religious minorities are often targeted with dangerous slurs and conspiracy theories and we applaud genuine efforts to remove this content from social media platforms," Madihha Ahussain, Muslim Advocates’ special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry, said in a statement. 

But Ahussain added that "the effectiveness of this new policy will depend on how Twitter enforces it."

Twitter has waged a months-long battle to improve the conversational "health" on its platform, meaning reorienting it toward informational or productive dialogue rather than hate or harassment. But it's still facing enormous pressure from all sides over how it should police its platform, which has about 321 million monthly users.

Color of Change, another digital civil rights organization, in a statement raised concerns over Twitter's "failure to ban all forms of dehumanization immediately."