Is booting neo-Nazis from Twitter a simple process? Probably not. Can steps be taken at the very least to punish racist tweets? Probably, but not everyone will be happy with whose hate speech gets scrubbed as a result.
With a user base of 321 million monthly tweeters — a few millions less than the total US population — the micro-blogging site could help minimize the rapid spread of digital hate speech in the country if they helped silence racist and xenophobic tweets. Turns out one Twitter employee couldn’t help but wonder why they don’t take action.
During an all-hands staff meeting on March 22nd, an employee asked why the company refrains from using its AI to kick white nationalists off the site. After all, Twitter had previously ushered a sweep of bans on accounts pushing Islamic State propaganda. The answer was unsurprising for anyone who’s ever perused Twitter: Content filters created to identify hate speech could potentially result in Republican politicians being banned, an executive explained.
Motherboard broke down the executive’s explanation of the algorithm process:
With every sort of content filter, there is a tradeoff, [the executive] explained. When a platform aggressively enforces against ISIS content, for instance, it can also flag innocent accounts as well, such as Arabic language broadcasters. Society, in general, accepts the benefit of banning ISIS for inconveniencing some others, he said.
In separate discussions verified by Motherboard, that employee said Twitter hasn’t taken the same aggressive approach to white supremacist content because the collateral accounts that are impacted can, in some instances, be Republican politicians.
The employee argued that, on a technical level, content from Republican politicians could get swept up by algorithms aggressively removing white supremacist material. Banning politicians wouldn’t be accepted by society as a trade-off for flagging all of the white supremacist propaganda, he argued.
So who, exactly, could potentially be banned if filters like these were created? For starters, there is Rep. Steve King of Iowa who has, for the third time, quote-tweeted white supremacist propaganda by an open white nationalist. Then there are others who get the job done themselves: Republican candidate Paul Nehlen got himself banned all on his own after posting a racist tweet about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Twitter told Motherboard that this statement from the employee “is not [an] accurate characterization of our policies or enforcement — on any level.” Meanwhile, Facebook has begun explicitly banning white nationalism and white separatism.
This news, of course, arrives just days after Donald Trump met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to complain about losing followers. Originally, the meeting was set up to discuss ways to “protect the health of the public conversation ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections and efforts underway to respond to the opioid crisis.” Instead, it quickly turned into a personal FAQ opportunity to ask why his follower count had dipped. According to two people close to Trump, he also “repeatedly griped to associates about how his predecessor, President Obama, has had more Twitter followers than he has, even though — by Trump’s own assessment — he is so much better at Twitter than Obama is.”