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Twitter's Growing Pain: Dealing with Neo-Nazi Hate Speech

By Adam Dickter
October 18, 2012 4:52PM

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As it grows, Twitter is likely to come under increasing pressure to deal with offensive speech. "This is the tip of the iceberg," said analyst Alan Webber of Twitter's move to block a neo-Nazi group. "I would bet that in the next three years, technology companies will either try to work within the boundaries of laws, or the laws will have to try to play catch-up."

(Page 2 of 2)

But some say simply observing laws isn't responsible enough.

Haven for Bigots?

This week, the Anti-Defamation League, a New York-based civil rights group, criticized Twitter for doing nothing to stop a hashtag-thread started in France, #agoodjew, which the organization said caused a barrage of anti-Semitic Tweets.

"Twitter is fast becoming the Internet's distribution platform of choice for bigots who use it to get their messages of hate out in 140 characters or less," said Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director, in a statement. "Twitter's terms of service lag far behind other established social media platforms in setting standards which would provide a basis for Twitter to block or remove racist, hate-filled tweets and re-tweets."

The Content Boundaries posted in Twitter's Terms of Service ban specific threats of violence against others, impersonation, trademark or copyright infringement, illegal activity, publishing others' private information, and misuse of Twitter badges for Promoted Tweets or Verified Accounts.

The Report Abusive Behavior section says, "Users are allowed to post content, including potentially inflammatory content, provided they do not violate the Twitter Rules and Terms of Service."

However, the form for reporting does include buttons for "Someone on Twitter is posting offensive content" and "Someone on Twitter is sending me abusive messages."

Reluctant Censor

The company's reluctance to censor was apparent in the tweet from counsel Alex Macgillivray announcing the blockage of HannoverTicker's account: "Never want to withhold content; good to have tools to do it narrowly & transparently."

A Twitter spokesman, declining to be identified, defended the company's policies.

"We've made a decision to defend free speech rights in a very broad context," the spokesman said. "That means making tough choices. You have to ask other social networks why they have those policies.

"We choose to have a very vibrant discussion and that means you have to cross boundaries. We rely on users [to moderate themselves]."

In contrast, Facebook's stricter terms of service include verbiage that states: "You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence." Facebook users can report individual status updates from friends, marking them as spam or complaining for a host of reasons ranging from "I don't like this post" to marking it as hate speech.

On occasion, Facebook has removed pages for groups others find offensive, most recently for the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group.

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