As of Nov. 2017, Twitter is expanding its oversight of users to include on and off-site behavior. When users are off the platform, breaking Twitter’s rules could still lead to a variety of penalties on the platform. The tech giant recently updated its rules, guidelines and “enforcement actions.”
If Twitter users break its rules on Twitter, they will be treated to standard consequences, which include the requirement that content be removed and the suspension of accounts. If users behave in a manner inconsistent with the company’s rules off Twitter or offline, they will now be vulnerable to the same possible ramifications.
The new standards state users “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.” Also, “hateful images or symbols” will be prohibited from profile images or headers. The full policy will begin on Dec. 18, 2017. Twitter has been criticized for not doing more to fight hate speech in the past, The Independent reports. The new guidelines are a continuation of its efforts to try to protect users from online abuse and hate while defending free speech within a 330 million-user social platform.
Early iterations of this policy change center on verified accounts. A Twitter verified account was originally used to authenticate the profiles of high-profile users. In 2016, Twitter decided to let anyone request a verified account. In Nov. 2017, the company announced through a series of tweets and an update to its support page that it will remove the verification badges from profiles that violate its rules on or off of Twitter.
“Verification has long been perceived as an endorsement. We gave verified accounts visual prominence on the service which deepened this perception. We should have addressed this earlier but did not prioritize the work as we should have,” Twitter tweeted.
A publicized verification scenario in Jan. 2017 centered on Twitter’s removal of the badge from media personality and writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who was banned from Twitter soon after for spearheading a campaign of racist harassment. Yiannopoulos has been a well-known figure of the “alt-right movement,” which the Associated Press defines as “an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism.”
“No one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others,” a company rep tells NPR.
Casey Newton of The Verge reports that before the announcement of the new rules, the company received backlash for verifying the new account of white supremacist Jason Kessler, who had deleted a previous profile. Meanwhile, it “stripped the blue checkmark” from others associated with the “alt-right,” including white supremacist Richard Spencer.
The new plan to include off-Twitter and offline behavior in its evaluation of users brings up numerous questions – how will they observe and evaluate users’ behavior, how long will record-keeping last, and how will they choose which users to monitor? As Newton puts it, the inclusion of off-Twitter behavior in the company’s policies “adds an unpredictable new dimension to its anti-harassment efforts.” Twitter says it “will continue to review and take action as we work towards a new program we are proud of.”