Twitter Defends Giving David Duke a Platform: He's 'Not Currently a Member of the KKK'

File photo of David Duke when he ran for U.S. Senate in Louisiana in 2016 and lost.
File photo of David Duke when he ran for U.S. Senate in Louisiana in 2016 and lost.
Photo: Gerald Herbert (AP)

Why is David Duke, a white supremacist and former Klansmen, allowed to spout hateful anti-semitic, anti-trans, and anti-Black things on Twitter? According to the company, one reason Duke is not banned is that he’s not currently a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Seriously.

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Duke announced his endorsement of Donald Trump for re-election on Twitter yesterday, prompting us here at Gizmodo to wonder why the former Grand Wizard of the KKK is still allowed on the social media platform—especially since Twitter has been kicking off plenty of white supremacists this month.

We just got our answer via email from a Twitter spokesperson who sent us information “on background,” meaning that it’s not supposed to be quoted directly. The only problem? “On background” agreements must be entered into by both parties, the spokesperson and the journalist. Saying “on background” or “off the record” is not a magic wand that means anything that you say afterward must be kept quiet.

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Gizmodo did not agree to an “on background” discussion with Twitter and we feel that it’s important for Gizmodo’s readers to know the content of the email we received to better understand how the company decides to allow hateful people on its platform.

David Duke regularly tweets with the thinnest of plausible deniability, calling Black people “savages,” Jewish people “degenerate filth,” and using three parentheses around the names of Jewish people—an anti-semitic code sometimes referred to as an “echo.” Duke also uses anti-trans slurs like “tranny” and complains about the “Jewish-led homo agenda.” A notorious Holocaust denier, Duke often puts the word “Holocaust” in quotes seemingly to belittle the atrocity. Duke is a professional racist, so obviously, the list goes on and on.

And that’s why this email from Twitter is important to share. First, here’s the part of the email that Twitter wanted us to share with readers, sent by a spokesperson for the company:

Hateful conduct and groups that advocate for violence toward civilians have no place on our service. When we identify this on Twitter, we take action immediately in line with our rules and we’ll continue to do so on any accounts and conversations that promote violence or directly attack or threaten other people based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin.

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Normally, that would be the only thing that a writer would quote directly if they had a pre-existing relationship with a source who asked that the rest of an email not be quoted. But we have no such relationship with this spokesperson from Twitter.

The next part of the email, which is marked as being “on background” sets up two things that Twitter ostensibly bans: “extremism” and “hateful conduct.”

We have two specific, purpose-built policies that are enforced vigorously in this space. We launched and expanded this approach in the last days of 2017.

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Under “extremism” the Twitter spokesperson included three bullet points outlining things that are banned by the social media company. The parts in bold were emphasized in yellow in the original email.

  • You may not make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people.
  • This includes, but is not limited to, threatening or promoting terrorism. You also 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.
  • To date, we have removed at least 95 “white nationalist” or ”white supremacist” organizations under our Violent Extremist Group policy and anyone who is identified as affiliated with any of these groups.
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Under “hateful conduct” the Twitter spokesperson wrote:

  • You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.
  • Hateful imagery and display names: You may not use hateful images or symbols in your profile image or profile header. You also may not use your username, display name, or profile bio to engage in abusive behavior, such as targeted harassment or expressing hate towards a person, group, or protected category.
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But the next section of the email was by far the most interesting. The last four bullet points of the email are described as being about David Duke specifically.

  • We take action on the content that’s actually posted on Twitter first and foremost — not on the basis of an individual’s controversial political biography.
  • There’s precedent. We’ve taken action when Duke’s Tweets have violated our Rules (temporary bans; forced to remove content). Future violations will lead to account suspension.
  • Separately, we have a policy against violent extremist groups, including the KKK. Duke is not currently a member of the KKK and has distanced himself from the organization publicly.
  • We have various enforcement options at our disposal based on the severity of the content that’s reported to us and these apply here (see above).
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It’s true that David Duke was previously suspended by Twitter very briefly in March of 2017 but the public never learned why Duke’s account was temporarily brought offline. And that lack of transparency plagued Twitter for years.

The company has gotten somewhat better about why it makes some of the decisions that it does, but it’s still unclear precisely why people like Stefan Molyneux were banned this week, while other white supremacists like David Duke and Richard Spencer are allowed to remain on the platform.

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One of the most interesting reasons that Twitter gives in this email is that Duke is “not currently a member of the KKK and has distanced himself from the organization publicly.” But David Duke is not some anti-racist reformed member of the KKK. He previously said that he quit the organization over violence, but it’s not like he left the KKK to go become a quiet farmer or something. After leaving the KKK he almost immediately started a new organization called the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP) and ran political campaigns built on racial hatred.

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But Twitter doesn’t see a problem with any of the tweets Duke still has up on the site, for the time being. After all, it allows President Trump to break its own rules on a regular basis. Why would the company keep a consistent rulebook for every single racist on the platform?

David Duke is here to stay, according to Twitter. After all, he’s not a member of the KKK at this very moment, is he? Checkmate.

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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What’s everyone going to do for lunch today?  I’m thinking tacos.