How Twitter is Censoring Hate Speech

Twitter accounts promoting white supremacy have been blocked based on requests from governments, NGOs, and other entities in seven countries.

Twitter refers to the process as “withholding;” this means the content is only blocked in specific places (for example, if one country withholds a tweet, it may still be available in other countries).  This withholding process is a part of Twitter’s larger transparency report that shows the requests for removal by governments or other authorities.

Germany, France, Turkey, Russia, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and India have all withheld tweets/Twitter accounts between Oct. 2017 and early Jan. 2018.

Withheld twitter accounts by country according to Buzzfeed News.

Twitter’s move to filter out offensive content was spurred, in part, by a new German law censoring hate speech that went into effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Germany has already started to implement the new policy: German right-wing politician Beatrix von Storch tweeted on New Years Eve accusing police of appeasing “barbaric, gang-raping Muslim hordes of men.” Her twitter account was shut down in compliance with the anti-hate speech law.

Right-wing politician Beatrix von Storch (photo from CNN)

People are claiming it is censorship which infringes upon people’s individual liberties.

“A private company based in the United States decides the boundaries of freedom of the press and opinion in Germany,” Deutsche Journalisten-Verband (German Journalists Association) Chairman Frank Ueberall said in a statement, calling on parliament to reverse the hate speech law.

Some claim this censorship is necessary to stop the rise of fake news, which is perpetuated by social media.

This trend is not limited to Germany: in the United Kingdom, the account of far-right group Britain First was suspended. This group had regularly posted videos showing Muslims partaking in violence. The two leaders of the organization, Jayda Fransen and Paul Golding, were also suspended from Twitter.

However, the lack of a specific list of banned symbols or images makes Twitter’s censorship seemingly subjective. Twitter views each complaint individually, which could lead to unequal enforcement.  

For example, Rose McGowan, who opened a public campaign raising awareness of sexual harassment and abuse, specifically naming Harvey Weinstein, had her account suspended due to “privacy concerns.”

A snapshot of Rose McGowan’s Twitter.

Twitter is taking more action than ever before to suspend accounts promoting hate speech in an attempt to prevent it. In some countries like Germany, this suspension is required by law. However, Twitter’s lack of consistent, public guidelines regarding account suspension is a concern. As the impact of social media grows, so do issues regarding its power and influence over the world.

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