Twitter Wants to Ban Users Who Use ‘Dehumanizing’ Language

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In the midst of continued criticism for failing to successfully tackle abuse on its platform, Twitter has announced a new approach. The company is planning to introduce new policies, but before they become part of the official rules it will ask for feedback from users.

Starting off with a new ‘Dehumanization Policy’, Twitter will invite users to give their opinion and complete surveys about proposed policy changes. The first policy to be subject to this public scrutiny says: “You may not dehumanize anyone based on membership in an identifiable group, as this speech can lead to offline harm”.

In a blog post explaining that users will be able to provide feedback for the next fortnight, Twitter offers a couple of definitions for consideration:

Dehumanization: Language that treats others as less than human. Dehumanization can occur when others are denied human qualities (animalistic dehumanization) or when others are denied human nature (mechanistic dehumanization). Examples can include comparing groups to animals and viruses (animalistic) or reducing groups to their genitalia (mechanistic).

However, Twitter hasn’t been clear as to how much community feedback will guide its decision-making, though. It merely says that after the feedback, it will then continue with its regular process.

Twitter’s perennial problem

Previously, Twitter policies were subject to input from its own Trust and Safety Council and a handful of its experts. Now, it says, “we’re trying something new by asking everyone for the feedback on a policy before it’s part of the Twitter Rules”.

So the idea to involve its community in policy-making is a laudable change and one that could make users feel more involved with the making of a Twitter rulebook. But I don’t think Twitter’s issues around abuse and hate speech on its network don’t really stem from poor policies. As it happens, its policies actually spell things out fairly well, in many cases, about what should be allowed and what should not.

Twitter’s problems tend to stem from its slacking to enforce its rules. Sometimes the company declines to penalize or ban users whose content is hateful in its nature, in an effort to remain an open platform for all voices.