Earlier this year, Twitter announced that it would finally be changing its moderation policies in what was popularly received as an acknowledgement how badly hordes of trolls, white supremacists and swastika-toting Pepes have overrun the site for years. The new guidelines (which Twitter has touted as simply a clarification of existing rules) go into effect on Monday, December 18th, and include prohibitions on “hateful imagery and display names” as well as those who “use [a] username, display name, or profile bio to engage in abusive behavior.”
Significantly, Twitter said it would also police violent hate speech “on and off the platform”—a move that some sites like Recode speculated could “saddle itself with an incredible burden” but seems more like a pretext for Twitter to get rid of users who might espouse awful ideas, yet don’t necessarily go around making violent threats. With the rollout date imminent, it remains to be seen whether Twitter is preparing a dramatic change in the way it polices users on the site or if the new approach will simply fall in line with its time-honored, laissez-faire approach of inaction and confusion.
In the past few months, users have gotten mixed signals on just how this could go down. For example, in early November, the site verified Jason Kessler, giving a shiny blue checkmark to the organizer of a violent neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left three people dead and scores wounded. The incident was particularly galling because in August, Kessler had tweeted that the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer at the rally was “payback time.”
But soon thereafter, Twitter halted all account verifications and announced it would be re-examining its policies. Days later, Twitter began removing the verified badges from a number of high-profile white supremacist and alt-right accounts and banned Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet, one of the service’s most annoying Nazi-adjacent trolls. That would seem like a positive step, though there were some troubling signs Twitter just doesn’t have enough qualified moderators to ensure a more punitive approach is rolled out fairly—for example, a fair number of anecdotal accounts suggest it’s easy for trolls to game its moderation system by mass-reporting clearly joking or inoffensive tweets.
Time will tell what happens. In the meantime, Twitter’s alt-right crowd is clearly spooked, with some users like white supremacist Jared Taylor warning that the site will “make a clean sweep of everything ‘offensive’” and may start mass-banning users tomorrow.