Twitter declares war on hateful, abusive tweets

Last Updated Oct 18, 2017 10:57 AM EDT

MENLO PARK, Calif. - Twitter vowed to crack down further on hate speech and sexual harassment, days after CEO Jack Dorsey said in a tweet-storm that the company was "still" not doing enough to protect its users.

The policy changes were specifically aimed at protecting women who unknowingly or unwillingly had nude pictures of themselves distributed online or were subject to unwanted sexual advances. They would also aim to shield groups subject to hateful imagery, symbols and threats of violence.

In an email Twitter (TWTR) shared with The Associated Press Tuesday, its head of safety policy outlined the new guidelines to the company's Trust and Safety Council, a group of outside organizations that advises Twitter on its policies against abuse.

The company said it would enact the changes in the weeks ahead. News of the policy changes was first reported by Wired.

Among the changes, Twitter said it would immediately and permanently suspend any account it identifies as being the original poster of "non-consensual nudity," including so-called "creep shots" of a sexual nature taken surreptitiously. Previously, the company treated the original poster of the content the same as those who retweeted it, and it resulted only in a temporary suspension.

It said it would also develop a system allowing bystanders to report unwanted exchanges of sexually charged content, whereas in the past it relied on one of the parties involved in the conversation to come forward before taking action.

Twitter also said it would take new action on hate symbols and imagery and "take enforcement action against organizations that use/have historically used violence as a means to advance their cause," though it said more details were to come.

While it already takes action against direct threats of violence, the company said it would also act against tweets that glorify or condone violence.

On Friday, Dorsey foreshadowed the coming policy changes in a series of tweets, saying the company's efforts over the last two years were inadequate.

"Today we saw voices silencing themselves and voices speaking out because we're *still* not doing enough," Dorsey tweeted — an apparent reference to the daylong #WomenBoycottTwitter campaign launched to protest the temporary suspension of actress Rose McGowan's account and Twitter's failure to rein in online attacks and hate speech.

As our partner site CNET reports, abusive behavior has been a blight on the social network for years. Some particularly ugly episodes included a hate mob attacking Leslie Jones, a star of last summer's "Ghostbusters" movie, and the vicious messages sent to Robin Williams' daughter after his death in 2015, prompting her to delete the app. That same month, Anita Sarkeesian, an academic highlighting how women are portrayed in video games, was so disturbed by the tweets she received that she fled her home, fearing for her safety.

The moves also come amid intense scrutiny from congressional investigators into how Russian agents used Twitter, Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG) to influence last year's U.S. election. Twitter has said it would appear at a public congressional hearing on Nov. 1 after already briefing a Senate committee.

The company has handed over the handles of 201 accounts it believes were linked to Russia. It has also said at least $274,000 in U.S. ads were bought last year by Russia Today, a Russian-government-linked media outlet.

Courtesy of CNET, Twitter's email on the latest policy changes is posted in full below:

Dear Trust & Safety Council members,

I'd like to follow up on Jack's Friday night Tweetstorm about upcoming policy and enforcement changes.  Some of these have already been discussed with you via previous conversations about the Twitter Rules update. Others are the result of internal conversations that we had throughout last week.

Here's some more information about the policies Jack mentioned as well as a few other updates that we'll be rolling out in the weeks ahead.

Non-consensual nudity

Current approach

--We treat people who are the original, malicious posters of non-consensual nudity the same as we do people who may unknowingly Tweet the content. In both instances, people are required to delete the Tweet(s) in question and are temporarily locked out of their accounts. They are permanently suspended if they post non-consensual nudity again.

Updated approach

--We will immediately and permanently suspend any account we identify as the original poster/source of non-consensual nudity and/or if a user makes it clear they are intentionally posting said content to harass their target.

--We will do a full account review whenever we receive a Tweet-level report about non-consensual nudity. If the account appears to be dedicated to posting non-consensual nudity then we will suspend the entire account immediately.

--Our definition of "non-consensual nudity" is expanding to more broadly include content like upskirt imagery, "creep shots," and hidden camera content. Given that people appearing in this content often do not know the material exists, we will not require a report from a target in order to remove it. While we recognize there's an entire genre of pornography dedicated to this type of content, it's nearly impossible for us to distinguish when this content may/may not have been produced and distributed consensually. We would rather error on the side of protecting victims and removing this type of content when we become aware of it.

Unwanted sexual advances

Current approach

--Pornographic content is generally permitted on Twitter, and it's challenging to know whether or not sexually charged conversations and/or the exchange of sexual media may be wanted. To help infer whether or not a conversation is consensual, we currently rely on and take enforcement action only if/when we receive a report from a participant in the conversation.

Updated approach

--We are going to update the Twitter Rules to make it clear that this type of behavior is unacceptable. We will continue taking enforcement action when we receive a report from someone directly involved in the conversation. Once our improvements to bystander reporting go live, we will also leverage past interaction signals (eg things like block, mute, etc) to help determine whether something may be unwanted and action the content accordingly.

Hate symbols and imagery (new)

--We are still defining the exact scope of what will be covered by this policy. At a high level, hateful imagery, hate symbols, etc will now be considered sensitive media (similar to how we handle and enforce adult content and graphic violence).

--More details to come.

Violent groups (new)

--We are still defining the exact scope of what will be covered by this policy. At a high level, we will take enforcement action against organizations that use/have historically used violence as a means to advance their cause.

--More details to come here as well (including insight into the factors we will consider to identify such groups).

Tweets that glorify violence (new)

--We already take enforcement action against direct violent threats ("I'm going to kill you"), vague violent threats ("Someone should kill you") and wishes/hopes of serious physical harm, death, or disease ("I hope someone kills you"). Moving forward, we will also take action against content that glorifies ("Praise be to <terrorist name> for shooting up <event>. He's a hero!") and/or condones ("Murdering <x group of people> makes sense. That way they won't be a drain on social services").

--More details to come.

We realize that a more aggressive policy and enforcement approach will result in the removal of more content from our service. We are comfortable making this decision, assuming that we will only be removing abusive content that violates our Rules. To help ensure this is the case, our product and operational teams will be investing heavily in improving our appeals process and turnaround times for their reviews.

In addition to launching new policies, updating enforcement processes and improving our appeals process, we have to do a better job explaining our policies and setting expectations for acceptable behavior on our service. In the coming weeks, we will be:

--updating the Twitter Rules as we previously discussed (+ adding in these new policies)

--updating the Twitter media policy to explain what we consider to be adult content, graphic violence, and hate symbols.

--launching a standalone Help Center page to explain the factors we consider when making enforcement decisions and describe our range of enforcement options

--launching new policy-specific Help Center pages to describe each policy in greater detail, provide examples of what crosses the line, and set expectations for enforcement consequences

--updating outbound language to people who violate our policies (what we say when accounts are locked, suspended, appealed, etc).

We have a lot of work ahead of us and will definitely be turning to you all for guidance in the weeks ahead. We will do our best to keep you looped in on our progress.

All the best,
Head of Safety Policy