Twitter talks back — sort of

sheriff clarke
Image description: A notice from Twitter advising that my report against David A. Clarke. “ Our investigation found this account in violation of the Twitter Rules.”

Diverse groups — including women, LGBTQ people, Muslims, African Americans — have been increasingly targeted by online harassment and hate speech. For example, the Anti-Defamation League, one organization that tracks hate speech, found a sharp rise in anti-Semitic  online content since the 2016 presidential election. Over the past year, like many other people, I’ve been moved to report hate speech and threats of violence I see on Twitter. In response to an onslaught of such reports, Twitter tightened up its rules. Here’s the current Twitter statement about violence, which went into effect about a month ago.

Violence: You may not make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people. This includes, but is not limited to, threatening or promoting terrorism. You also may not affiliate with organizations that — whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform — use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes. We will begin enforcing this rule around affiliation with such organizations on December 18, 2017.

And here’s the rule about what I call hate speech.

Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. Read more about our hateful conduct policy.

One of the Twitter users I reported was David A. Clarke, the sheriff who’s known for wearing fake military medals and for claiming he’ll be hired by 45 any day now. Clarke’s Twitter account was, in fact, suspended at the beginning of this year, but he was back online after deleting a few offensive tweets. Twitter’s message to me came almost 20 days after they’d reinstated him.

I still believe Clarke’s tweets threatened violence, but now I’m wondering why Twitter chose to sanction him and not (apparently) the other users I reported, who were all white men. Clarke, not surprisingly, has pooh-poohed his sanctioning, inviting readers to visit his web page, which he calls “Twitter censor-proof.”

Should I, or you, continue to report tweets that are hateful or that threaten violence? Do we really need more laws and regulations? Do we have a responsibility to help create community standards for acceptable social media speech?

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