In 2009 Twitter was sued by an NFL sports coach who was annoyed at a spoof account mocking him. As a result they changed their operation and their rules.
Since then there have been other cases, some legal and others very public, such as GamerGate, attacks on women in the UK and general bullying. All the issues have resulted in a tightening of the rules.
In April 2015 they changed the rules again, this time with a focus on the promotion of terrorism:
By April, in another page separate from the Rules, the company also prohibited “threatening or promoting terrorism,” as well as “promot[ing] violence against others… on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, age, or disability.”
Twitter wasn’t using the term “hate speech,” but the company had effectively banned hate speech.
When asked for comment, a Twitter spokesperson contested this characterization, saying the company does not prohibit hate speech. “‘Hateful conduct’ differs from ‘hate speech’ in that the latter focuses on words. It’s the incitement to violence that we’re prohibiting. Offensive content and controversial viewpoints are still permitted on Twitter.”
Twitter is correct in that their definition of “hateful conduct” does not span quite as broadly as the hate speech prohibited in many European jurisdictions. But given that a viewpoint-based restriction on inciting speech is something that’s alien to American law, and the “hateful conduct” classification looks just like a subset of hate speech, it seems a bit like splitting hairs here.
No doubt there were questions around the language in the rest of the April update. By August, the company had reformulated the phrasing to clarify that it definitely included indirect threats, marking a massive departure from the original rules set out in 2009, which had explicitly limited the prohibition on threats to “direct” and “specific” threats.
Indeed, the new ban on indirect threats contradicted the Rules page, which used the “direct, specific threats” phrasing it had inherited from 2009. But other support pages clarified that Twitter prohibited not only hate speech and indirect threats, but also the “incitement” of harassment—speech that wasn’t a threat per se, but was intended to result in threats regardless.
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