Twitter asks users if it should ban ‘dehumanising speech’

3 min


Twitter is asking its users if it should ban “dehumanising speech” or whether it would be too harsh of a crackdown on free speech.

A statement acknowledged how it had previously developed policies without asking users, but now it is seeking their feedback.

“For the last three months, we have been developing a new policy to address dehumanising language on Twitter,” the company said.

“Language that makes someone less than human can have repercussions off the service, including normalising serious violence.”

Some of this language is already prohibited and has led to Twitter banning far-right accounts, including those of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and the leaders of Britain First.

The company is now proposing a new policy, stating: “You may not dehumanise anyone based on membership in an identifiable group, as this speech can lead to offline harm.”

A brief search by Sky News for dehumanising terms such as “sub-human” returned dozens of results, including from verified accounts.

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Users are being asked to rate the clarity of the policy on a scale between one and five.

They are also asked whether there are examples of speech which violate the policy but also contribute to a healthy conversation.

It follows the company launching a “global health initiative” after criticism it was too soft on people using Twitter to harass female public figures and spread racist views.

A crackdown on locked accounts prompted some of the most followed people to losing huge numbers of followers, with Katy Petter, Lady Gaga and Barack Obama losing millions each.

Other work based on ranking high-quality conversations led to Twitter being accused of political bias when US Republicans discovered they were not being “auto-suggested”.

It is likely the public consultation is an attempt to engage with users who fear the “dehumanisation” policy will affect their use of Twitter.

In July, Twitter announced it was turning to academics, including from Oxford’s department for experimental psychology, to tackle hate speech and promote “healthy conversations”.

The company said it intends to be able to measure “the health of public conversation on Twitter”, although it is not yet clear how this will work.

Professor Miles Hewstone and John Gallacher at the University of Oxford’s department for experimental psychology, in partnership with Dr Marc Heerdink of the University of Amsterdam, are working with the company to study how people use the service.

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