For the second time in less than three weeks, Twitter has said it will look at its policies following controversy over tweets by a politician. On Tuesday, Twitter reversed a decision it made the day before to block a campaign video from Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican representative from Tennessee, for breaking its ad policies. In a media statement, a Twitter spokesperson said "While we initially determined that a small portion of the video used potentially inflammatory language, after reconsidering the ad in the context of the entire message, we believe that there is room to refine our policies around these issues."
Last month, Twitter promised an update to its “public-facing rules” after explaining that it allowed a tweet by President Donald Trump about North Korea, which critics believed violated the platform’s user policies, to stay up because of its “newsworthiness.”
According to a report by Buzzfeed News, Twitter sent an email to the Blackburn campaign explaining it would allow the video ad if it removed a line mentioning the sale of “baby body parts,” which refer to allegations by anti-abortion against Planned Parenthood which have been discredited by multiple state investigations.
In the email, which was obtained by Buzzfeed, Twitter told the campaign that “The line in this video specific to 'stopped the sale of baby body parts' has been deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction. If this is omitted from the video it will be permitted to serve.”
— Marsha Blackburn (@VoteMarsha) October 9, 2017
Ironically (but not surprisingly), Twitter’s initial decision to ban the ad gave it more publicity, with former White House press secretary Sean Spicer tweeting that “Twitter continues campaign against GOP.”
— Sean Spicer (@seanspicer) October 9, 2017
Blackburn also used the ban as an opportunity to attack Twitter, Silicon Valley and the “liberal elite” on Twitter.
— Marsha Blackburn (@VoteMarsha) October 10, 2017
While critics across the political spectrum have long accused Twitter of applying its policies in an arbitrary way, the divisive political atmosphere in the U.S. has put even more pressure on social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to justify how they enforce their content policies. Adding another layer of complexity to the issue are ongoing Congressional investigations over how much major tech companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google knew about ads that were bought and placed by a Russian company to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Instead of providing clarity, however, Twitter’s promises to “update” or “refine” its policies may add to the confusion, especially if it doesn't also provide more transparency to how they are applied. TechCrunch has asked Twitter when it will give more specific information about policy changes to users.