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Twitter to ban tweets ‘dehumanizing’ religious groups, plans further content crackdown

Twitter to ban tweets ‘dehumanizing’ religious groups, plans further content crackdown
Twitter will begin deleting tweets that contain “dehumanizing language towards religious groups,” the first step in a content policing overhaul that promises to get complicated.

Starting Tuesday, the social media platform will remove reported tweets that directly attack religious groups with “dehumanizing language.” For example, the company says that hypothetical tweets like “We need to exterminate the rats. The [religious group] are disgusting” will be deleted.

Though Twitter did not say if the accounts posting such tweets would be suspended, it did say that tweets posted before Tuesday will be deleted without “any account suspension,” indicating the company will hand out bans for tweets made after the rule comes into force.

The new policy comes almost a year after Twitter asked for feedback to help update its hate speech rules. Protecting religious groups is the first step towards protecting all “marginalized groups,” it said on Tuesday. 

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However, trying to protect these groups threatens to open a pandora’s box of nebulous social-justice concepts, and will almost certainly result in accusations of unfairness and bias. Twitter is aware of this, and noted that its first problem is identifying “whether a particular group has been historically marginalized and/or is currently being targeted.” Secondly, the issue of marginalized groups using “reclaimed terminology” is sure to muddy the process.

Twitter’s acknowledgement of this problem suggests that black activists, entertainers or commenters using the “reclaimed” word ‘n**ger’ will be treated differently than white supremacists using the same word in anger. But how will the rules be applied to, for instance, a white rap fan tweeting lyrics to his favorite NWA song? Twitter is still unsure.

The social media giant is unsure too about how the punishments meted out for violations will “take context fully into account” and be “necessary and proportionate.” All of these issues combined could cause major headaches for staff reviewing complaints.

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Twitter is not the only Silicon Valley megacorporation to attempt a clampdown on hate speech in recent months. Facebook banned all praise of "white nationalism” and “white separatism” in March, while YouTube banned all videos containing “hateful” and “supremacist” content last month. YouTube’s dragnet crackdown removed a number of channels outright promoting neo-Nazism and white supremacy, but also roped in thousands of videos critical of the social justice movement, and even videos reporting on extremism from a neutral and journalistic standpoint.

Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube have all been accused by conservatives of enforcing their policies selectively and of harboring a liberal bias.

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