Twitter slammed by MPs for failing to remove abusive tweets

At this morning’s home affairs committee hearing, Twitter faced condemnation for its failure to remove antisemitic and misogynistic tweets that had been flagged by MPs.

Twitter slammed by MPs for failing to remove abusive tweets

Labour’s Yvette Cooper, who chairs the committee, handed Twitter’s vice president for public policy and communications in Europe, Sinead McSweeney, abusive tweets that had been sent to Labour MP Luciana Berger, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and prime minister Theresa May. Cooper reported the tweets, but they still haven’t been taken down, at the time of writing.

“I’m kind of wondering what we have to do,” said Cooper, as reported by the Guardian. “We sat in this committee in a public hearing and raised a clearly vile antisemitic tweet with your organisation.

“It was discussed and it is still there, and everybody accepted, you’ve accepted, your predecessor accepted, that it was unacceptable. But it is still there on the platform. What is it that we have got to do to get you to take it down?

“And part of the problem is, it’s like even when we raise it in a forum like this, nothing happens. It’s very hard for us to believe that enough is being done when everybody else across the country raises concerns.”

McSweeney did not have an answer for Cooper, and told the committee: “I will come back to you with an answer as to why they are still on the platform”.

The condemnation comes in the wake of a move by Twitter to clamp down on abusive users, which has so far included the ban of accounts owned by the far-right group Britain First.

According to BuzzFeed media and politics reporter, Mark Di Stefano, McSweeney also admitted that Twitter’s verification approach is “broken” and that the whole of the system has been “suspended”. While this sounds revelatory, it actually relates back to an announcement Twitter made on 9 November, that it has “paused” all general verifications. 

Twitter to clamp down on abusive and hateful users

Following Twitter’s suspension of actress Rose McGowan’s account in October, and the online protests and outrage that followed, the site’s CEO Jack Dorsey promised to roll out new rules to clamp down on violent groups and sexual harassment.

Now, true to its word, Twitter has started rolling out the new rules across the platform and has already banned some high-profile accounts. 

The idea is for Twitter to “take a more aggressive stance” on how it enforces its existing rules, and has introduced a new round of rules to combat “unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies [sic] violence”.

In addition, these new rules will take into account offline activity and will forbid users from aligning themselves with, or showing support for, organisations that promote violence or hate speech. “Hateful images or symbols” are also now banned in user profiles or biographies. The fact the latter needs to be explicitly referenced, and the fact this wasn’t already a rule, may be indicative of how Twitter got itself into this mess in the first place. 

A breach of any of the new rules could lead to accounts being suspended or banned permanently. 

Twitter has already moved to solidify its tougher stance. Paul Golding (@GoldingBF) and (@JaydaBF), the leader and deputy leader of far-right group Britain First, have been banned. Fransen’s anti-Muslim videos hit the headlines last month when they were retweeted by Donald Trump.

The official Britain First Twitter account (@BritainFirstHQ) and that of the American white nationalist Jared Taylor, as well as the American Nazi party’s account, have also been suspended. 

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Twitter suspended McGowan’s account in October in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, with the company alleging the decision was made because the actress shared a private phone number. This led to a boycott of the service, with many pointing to the fact that Twitter has been relatively lax in responding to infringements of its terms from alt-right activists and, indeed, the President of the United States. Dorsey’s pledge also comes years after the Gamergate controversy saw scores of female Twitter users face regular rape and death threats.

Cue Dorsey promising Twitter would tighten its anti-abuse rules. “We see voices being silenced on Twitter every day. We’ve been working to counteract this for the past two years,” he wrote. “We decided to take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them.”

The past year has seen Twitter roll out a number of anti-abuse features, including the ability to block certain keywords. The company claims these measures are working, but it is also facing mounting criticism about its overall ethical stance. The white supremacist Richard Spencer, for example, has a verified account on Twitter, while Donald Trump has repeatedly broken the company’s terms of service.

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