On Tuesday, the company announced plans to curb abuse by expanding users’ powers to block or report others using the platform for malicious ends and revamping training for employees in charge of monitoring discourse on Twitter.
“There’s a fine line between free expression and abuse, and this launch is another step on the path toward getting rid of abuse,” Twitter’s vice president of trust and security, Del Harvey, told The New York Times. “We’ve been launching new products to address this, and the cadence of product releases is picking up. We have a lot planned on this path.”
USA Today reports that Twitter subsequently suspended several accounts related to the Alt-Right movement including the National Policy Institute’s Richard Spencer, Paul Town, Pax Dickinson, Ricky Vaughn and John Rivers. Though Twitter has suspended users in the past – in July, the company shut down Milo Yiannopoulos’s account after he led a social media assault on comedian and actress Leslie Jones – it has never removed so many accounts simultaneously.
Spencer accused Twitter of censorship for suspending his account. “This is corporate Stalinism,” he told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Twitter is trying to airbrush the Alt-Right out of existence. They’re clearly afraid. They will fail.” In a video posted on YouTube, Spencer added, “I am alive physically, but digitally speaking there has been execution squads across the Alt-Right. There is a great purge going on, and they are purging people based on their views.”
Heidi Beirich, a spokeswoman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit founded to “combat hate, intolerance and discrimination,” was heartened by Twitter’s decision to ban accounts affiliated with the Alt-Right. “We are encouraged by the decisions taken by Twitter,” she told USA Today. “Obviously, well-known white supremacists violate these terms of service and we are glad it appears that Twitter has chosen to step up on these issues.”
Twitter did not address the Alt-Right suspensions directly, but said in a statement: “The Twitter Rules prohibit targeted abuse and harassment. We will suspend accounts that violate this policy.”
Facebook has also been grappling with its role as a vehicle for hate speech, cyber abuse, and misinformation, which intensified during the U.S. election. Last month, USA Today reported that employees at Facebook tried to take down several posts from President-elect Donald Trump, including one that advocated for banning Muslims from entering the United States, on the grounds that they violated the company’s ban on hate speech. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ultimately decided to keep the posts on the website.
“When we review reports of content that may violate our policies, we take context into consideration,” Facebook explained in a statement about the incident. “That context can include the value of political discourse. Many people are voicing opinions about this particular content and it has become an important part of the conversation around who the next U.S. president will be. For those reasons, we are carefully reviewing each report and surrounding context relating to this content on a case by case basis.”