Following criticism that Twitter accounts supported ISIS recruitment, the social media platform has clarified its rules on harassment and banned content.
Twitter can be quite the conflicted social media platform at times. While it's a great open forum which facilitates direct communication on the Internet, that open model also makes it home to some of the worst excesses of online abuse and harassment - up to and including an actual ISIS recruitment campaign. In response to such concerns, Twitter has clarified what it considers violent and abusive behavior while updating its rules regarding banned content and deleted accounts.
"The updated language emphasizes that Twitter will not tolerate behavior intended to harass, intimidate, or use fear to silence another user's voice," Twitter Director of Trust and Safety Megan Christina wrote. "As always, we embrace and encourage diverse opinions and beliefs - but we will continue to take action on accounts that cross the line into abuse."
Twitter's updated rules don't mention ISIS explicitly, but provide a more detailed definition of what constitutes online abuse. Where prior rules contained vague definitions for threats and violence, these new terms state "you may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or disease."
As of writing, there are no stated changes to Twitter's enforcement practices, but Christina follows up with a brief summary of tools used to block, mute, and report abusive posts. "One of the areas we've found to be effective in this multi-layered strategy of fighting abuse is creating mandatory actions for suspected abusive behavior," she continues, "such as email and phone verification, and user deletion of Tweets for violations. These measures curb abusive behaviour by helping the community understand what is acceptable on our platform."
Twitter was already working to revise its policies earlier this year, but the conversation changed when it was revealed that ISIS controlled 46,000 Twitter accounts from September to December of 2014. More recently, Congress proposed legislation that would force social media sites to disclose potential terrorist activity to federal agencies. While such updates were probably in the works anyway, it's certainly a good time for Twitter to clarify the difference between "freedom of expression" and "online abuse" before any legislation arrives.
That said, Twitter's rule changes aren't all about violence and harassment. They also describe how Twitter might respond to reports of individuals inflicting self-harm, such as contacting them directly and providing resources from mental health professionals.