Political debates are getting even more heated with the 2020 presidential election approaching. Insults are flying, especially on social media. Twitter is taking measures to ensure politicians don’t violate its rules surrounding harassment and abuse. Their solution: a warning label for tweets that cross the line.
Labeled messages aren’t blocked, per se. Readers can choose to click beyond the warning to read the tweet in its entirety. And should there be protests of this being a sign of political bias or anti-free speech, Twitter says this new policy is one of public interest versus politics. Indeed, the policy’s announcement is in a section of their blog called Twitter Safety and tagged “health.”
“In the past, we’ve allowed certain Tweets that violated our rules to remain on Twitter because they were in the public’s interest, but it wasn’t clear when and how we made those determinations,” Twitter’s blog explained. “There are certain cases where it may be in the public’s interest to have access to certain Tweets, even if they would otherwise be in violation of our rules.”
Social media platforms have been navigating a fine line between freedom of speech and protecting the public. This escalated in March with the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand being live-streamed over Facebook. Within weeks, Australia passed legislation imposing fines and jail time on social media companies refusing to remove violent or hate-based content from their platforms. In a step of its own, Twitter announced on June 5 that it’s prohibiting videos touting white supremacy and neo-Nazism. A move, Twitter says, that will take time to enforce.
As for political tweets causing anxiety, many have pointed to President Donald Trump as a prime offender. Trump and other conservative politicians have pointed a finger at Twitter saying the platform’s rules biased, something reflected in its service. Not so, says Twitter. “On the rare occasions when this [use of the warning label] happens, we’ll place a notice – a screen you have to click or tap through before you see the Tweet – to provide additional context and clarity. We’ll also take steps to make sure the Tweet is not algorithmically elevated on our service, to strike the right balance between enabling free expression, fostering accountability, and reducing the potential harm caused by these Tweets.
To bring clarity to its use of warning labels on political tweets, Twitter has laid out the following parameters. The user must:
- Be or represent a government/elected official, be running for public office, or be considered for a government position (i.e., next in line, awaiting confirmation, named successor to an appointed position)
- Have more than 100,000 followers
- Be verified.
Twitter’s process for determining what gets hit with the label:
“A cross-functional team including Trust and Safety, Legal, Public Policy and regional teams will determine if the Tweets are a matter of public interest based on the criteria listed above and the following considerations:
- The immediacy and severity of potential harm from the rule violation, with an emphasis on ensuring physical safety
- Whether preserving a Tweet will allow others to hold the government official, candidate for public office, or appointee accountable for their statements
- Whether there are other sources of information about this statement available for the public to stay informed
- If removal would inadvertently hide context or prevent people from understanding an issue of public concern
- If the Tweet provides a unique context or perspective not available elsewhere that is necessary to a broader discussion.”
So how often will the warning labels be seen in the months leading up to November 2020? Only time will tell.
Twitter Warning Labels Target Politicos — Sources
The New York Times: Twitter
to Label Abusive Tweets From Political Leaders