Twitter Belatedly Tackles ‘Dehumanizing Speech’

The social media platform is responding to years-long calls to make Twitter less of a nightmare for marginalized groups.

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In a belated response to make Twitter less of an emotional dumpster fire, the social media platform on Tuesday announced it would implement a policy to “address dehumanizing language.”

The policy won’t come until Twitter updates its rules later this year but simply bars dehumanization of “anyone based on membership in an identifiable group, as this speech can lead to offline harm.” To violate the current rules, such language must attack a specific individual.

“There are still Tweets many people consider to be abusive, even when they do not break our rules,” the company wrote. “Better addressing this gap is part of our work to serve a healthy public conversation.”

Twitter took several cues from researcher Susan Benesch, who gives examples of comparing someone in an identifiable group to insects or animals. She calls such examples a “hallmark” of dangerous speech, a term she coined to classify speech that may encourage audiences to condone or inflict violence on another group. 

But users have been frustrated that Twitter doesn’t appear to consistently enforce its current policies. One user, in particular, might serve as an example.

In August, President Donald Trump’s history of dehumanization dominated headlines when called Omarosa Manigault a “dog” and “crazed, crying lowlife” in a tweet. Though he has called white men “dogs” before, The Washington Post analyzed that 13 of the last 22 people Trump has referred to as unintelligent have been black. He has called Manigault both.

The years-long calls to address such dehumanization increasingly involved tagging CEO Jack Dorsey in tweets. Perhaps the stock plunge following quarterly earnings report from this summer showing a decline in user growth was a factor. The next month, Dorsey assured that the company was working to stamp out harassment, CNN reported.

Nevertheless, users can tell Twitter just what they think of the new policy with a survey that’s open until Oct. 9, when employees in a working group analyze the data. Who’s going to tell them that broadening their hate speech policy makes a lack of action against @realDonaldTrump even more curious?

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