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Twitter wonders whether banning Nazis is good

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From time to time, Twitter thinks about things. And then it goes on thinking about them for a very lo
 
May 29 · Issue #334 · View online
The Interface
From time to time, Twitter thinks about things. And then it goes on thinking about them for a very long time.
It thought about killing off third-party applications for six years, and when it finally decided to act, only went halfway through with it.
It thought about banning Alex Jones, and then decided not to, and then held a meeting where it debated the nature of “dehumanizing speech,” and then banned Alex Jones, and then asked users for their input.
It thought about changing “the core of how Twitter works,” and discussed this idea on podcasts for the better part of last summer, and then released a beta app that threads replies. (Presumably the core-rethinking continues.)
Anyway, today came the news that Twitter is thinking about getting rid of the many vocal white supremacists on the platform. Jason Koebler and Joseph Cox talk to Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, legal and public policy, about the company’s recent discussions with academic researchers on the subject:
“We’re working with them specifically on white nationalism and white supremacy and radicalization online and understanding the drivers of those things; what role can a platform like Twitter play in either making that worse or making that better?” she said.
“Is it the right approach to deplatform these individuals? Is the right approach to try and engage with these individuals? How should we be thinking about this? What actually works?” she added.
On one hand, it’s great that Twitter is asking these questions. On the other, as various academics quoted in Vice’s piece will tell you, it’s hard to take any of it seriously.
When Motherboard described Twitter’s plans on the phone, two of the academics laughed before responding.
“That’s wild,” Becca Lewis, who researches networks of far right influencers on social media for the nonprofit Data & Society, said. “It has a ring of being too little too late in terms of launching into research projects right now. People have been raising the alarm about this for literally years now.”
“I mean, these quotes are a disaster, I’m going to be honest,” Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, a progressive group that studies conservative disinformation, said. “The idea that they are looking at this matter seriously now as opposed to the past indicates the callousness with which they’ve approached this issue on their platform.”
I understand that it’s easy — too easy, honestly — to dunk on Twitter over stuff like this. And it’s better that the company pays lip service to fighting white supremacy on its platform than nothing.
But the thing is — it’s only a little bit better than nothing. Because reading Twitter’s constant proclamations about what it might change about itself someday, you get the feeling that the company is seeking credit in the court of public opinion for its good intentions. And if there’s one thing we have learned about the consequences of social networks on society, it’s that good intentions just don’t matter.
So what could the company do instead?
One obvious answer: Twitter could enforce its own rules. While Gadde is seeking academic confirmation that removing Nazis from the platform is a good and useful thing to do, the fact remains that they aren’t supposed to be there in the first place. Recall this January interview with Jack Dorsey in Rolling Stone:
BRIAN HIATT: Technically, being a professed white nationalist isn’t grounds for removal, right? Someone has to make specific threats?
JACK DORSEY: It actually is. If they align themselves with a violent extremist group, like the American Nazi Party, we suspend their account. There are not self-professed Nazis. If you can show them, I would love to see them, and figure out why we haven’t taken action on them, but…
I can confirm that there are Nazis on Twitter.
A lot of the calls for “remove the Nazis” are also due to the fact our enforcement operates on reporting. A lot of people don’t report. They see things, but it’s easier to tweet out “get rid of the Nazis” than to report it. 
This conflict gets to the heart of the trouble with Twitter. In one interview, an executive will low-key brag about the intellectual rigor with which the company is approaching actually-not-that-difficult questions about what to do with users who favor varying degrees of genocide to achieve their political aims. And in another, the CEO will acknowledge that the question has basically already been resolved, but the company lacks the technical competence to find all the bad actors on its platform.
In the Dorsey interview, he goes on to say that Twitter needs to be more proactive about finding white nationalists. It’s a good idea, now five months old, and we’ve heard nothing about any concrete steps that Twitter might take to implement it. Instead, as ever, the company wants some time to think. And while I understand why the academics quoted in Vice’s article are laughing, I can’t say I find it all that funny.

Pushback
In yesterday’s issue, I endorsed Alexios Mantzarlis’ suggestion that Facebook should tell people that the distorted Pelosi video was fake, rather than simply that there is “additional reporting available.” A smart person wrote to remind me that when Facebook actually did label content as false, people were more likely to share it.
Democracy
Nancy Pelosi: Doctored Videos Show Facebook 'Willing Enablers' of Russians in 2016
Minds, the ‘Anti-Facebook,’ Has No Idea What to Do About All the Neo-Nazis
Facial Recognition Technology Is Facing A Huge Backlash In The US. But Some Of The World’s Biggest Tech Companies Are Trying To Sell It In The Gulf.
GamerGate Politician ‘Sargon of Akkad’ Loses Election Bid
Elsewhere
At Facebook’s Shareholder Meeting, a Challenge to Zuckerberg’s Power is Already Doomed
Facebook's engagement is sinking with no end in sight
Twitch is temporarily suspending new creators from streaming after troll attack
CrossFit storms off Facebook and Instagram, citing long list of grievances
ID at the Door: Meet the Security Company Building an International Database of Banned Bar Patrons
Launches
Go chat yourself with Facebook’s new Portal companion app
Facebook game developers get more options for monetization
Takes
Worry About Facebook. Rip Your Hair Out in Screaming Terror About Fox News.
Is Fake News spam?
And finally ...
Twitter is looking to hire a ‘master in the art of Twitter’ to become its Tweeter in Chief
Twitter
FYI: there IS an edit button. (In your brain)
12:34 PM - 29 May 2019
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and something you plan to think about but never actually act on: casey@theverge.com.
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