Commentary

What Serves The Public Conversation Best

Hate speech, like art or obscenity, often is in the mind of the beholder. To my mind, Alex Jones’ qualifies, and not just because I hate it. But because it is an insidious form of hate speech that skirts the line of explicit, imminent threats in favor of longer-term and more underlying ones.

He may not have outwardly advocated to incite violence toward any groups or individuals, but he routinely incites groups and individuals in a way that undermines the security of others, often the victims of actual violence.

His “false flag” attacks on the Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings don’t just pour salt into sensitive wounds, they desensitize society from taking actions that would create laws, policies and social norms to prevent them from happening again. As the name of his “show” honestly states, he is conducting “InfoWars” on our sensibilities.

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And the only sensible thing to do in response, is to ignore and marginalize what he does.

The worst part of the current debate over whether and which platforms should ban his content is that it is giving Jones more attention than he should have. Fringe conspiracy media mongers have always existed, and the First Amendment protects their right to publish as long as it isn’t explicit hate speech or incites violence.

However, it does not protect his right to be distributed by commercial media platforms -- especially big digital “social media” ones that have amplified his voice, expanded his audience and helped disrupt our common sense.

Kudos to Apple, Facebook and Google/YouTube for exercising some sense. While they have not explicitly banned Jones’ “Info Wars,” they have taken responsibility for censoring segments that step over the line.

Twitter, once again, is acquiescent, asserting its principle for being an open platform for social discourse, even when it’s so off course that it undermines the society it’s supposed to serve.

“We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules,” Twitter CEO @jack Dorsey tweeted Tuesday in defense of its decision.

In the string, he goes on to acknowledge how Twitter “has been terrible at explaining our decisions in the past” and goes on to assert: “We’re fixing that. We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account.”

Actually, I know that’s not true, because Twitter does not have a single standard for moderating accounts.

I know this because a while back, I made a case for suspending @realDonaldTrump, at least while he is @POTUS, since his tweets are so powerfully disruptive that they incite violence and inflict pain on both groups and individuals.

Twitter never responded to me, but shortly after, it stated it has a separate policy for treating the accounts of “world leaders.” In response to that, I asked what Twitter’s policy was for defining who is a “world leader.” Again, there was no response.

“Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, so it’s critical that journalists document, validate and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions,” @jack goes on to tweet in his string, passing the buck to others to set the record straight.

“This is what serves the public conversation best,” he concludes, then posts a link to Twitter’s ridiculously long, terse and incredibly subjective “The Twitter Rules,” which is ironically subtitled, “A Living Document.” You can read them in their entirety below.

If you ask me, @jack’s living in the past and hiding behind old Silicon Valley rules that no longer apply.

The idea that digital media platforms are dumb intermediaries for end-to-end users no longer applies. At a time when more Americans get their information -- real news, fake news and the information war-mongering kind -- from social media than they do from traditional, regulated media like TV, radio and newspapers, it’s time to rethink their role and their responsibility as gatekeepers. Otherwise, we should throw away their keys.

The Twitter Rules

We believe that everyone should have the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers. In order to protect the experience and safety of people who use Twitter, there are some limitations on the type of content and behavior that we allow. These limitations are set forth in the Twitter Rules below.

The Twitter Rules (along with all incorporated policies), Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service collectively make up the "Twitter User Agreement" that governs a user's access to and use of Twitter's services.

All individuals accessing or using Twitter’s services must adhere to the policies set forth in the Twitter Rules. Failure to do so may result in Twitter taking one or more of the following enforcement actions:

  • requiring you to delete prohibited content before you can again create new posts and interact with other Twitter users;
  • temporarily limiting your ability to create posts or interact with other Twitter users;
  • asking you to verify account ownership with a phone number or email address; or
  • permanently suspending your account(s).

If you attempt to evade a permanent suspension by creating new accounts, we will suspend your new accounts.

Please note that we may need to change these Rules from time to time and reserve the right to do so. The most current version is always available at: https://twitter.com/rules.

The policies set forth in these Twitter Rules govern organic content on our platform. To learn more about the rules which govern ads and promoted content, please review our Ads policies.

Content Boundaries and Use of Twitter

Intellectual property

Trademark: We reserve the right to suspend accounts or take other appropriate action when someone’s brand or trademark, including business name and/or logo, is used in a manner that may mislead or confuse others about your brand affiliation. Read more about our trademark policy and how to report a violation.

Copyright: We will respond to clear and complete notices of alleged copyright infringement. Our copyright procedures are set forth in our Terms of Service. Read more about our copyright policy.

Graphic violence and adult content

We consider graphic violence to be any form of gory media related to death, serious injury, violence, or surgical procedures. We consider adult content to be any media that is pornographic and/or may be intended to cause sexual arousal. Learn more about our media policy.

Twitter allows some forms of graphic violence and/or adult content in Tweets marked as containing sensitive media. However, you may not use such content in your profile or header images. Additionally, Twitter may sometimes require you to remove excessively graphic violence out of respect for the deceased and their families if we receive a request from their family or an authorized representative. Learn more about how to make such a request, and how to mark your media as sensitive.

Unlawful use

You may not use our service for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities. By using Twitter, you agree to comply with all applicable laws governing your online conduct and content.

Trends

At times, we may prevent certain content from trending. This includes content that violates the Twitter Rules, as well as content that may attempt to manipulate trends. Read more about what we allow and do not allow to trend.

Third-party advertising in video content

You may not submit, post, or display any video content on or through our services that includes third-party advertising, such as pre-roll video ads or sponsorship graphics, without our prior consent.

Misuse of Twitter badges

You may not use badges, including but not limited to the “promoted” or “verified” Twitter badges, unless provided by Twitter. Accounts using unauthorized badges as part of their profile photos, header photos, display names, or in any way that falsely implies affiliation with Twitter or authorization from Twitter to display these badges, may be suspended.

Misuse of usernames

Selling usernames: You may not buy or sell Twitter usernames.

Username squatting: You may not engage in username squatting. Some of the factors we take into consideration when determining whether conduct is username squatting include:

  • the number of accounts created;
  • the creation of accounts for the purpose of preventing others from using those account names;
  • the creation of accounts for the purpose of selling those accounts; and
  • the use of third-party content feeds to update and maintain accounts under the names of those third parties.

Please note that Twitter may also remove accounts that are inactive for more than six months. Learn more about username squatting.

Abusive Behavior

We believe in freedom of expression and open dialogue, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up. In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we prohibit behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.

Context matters when evaluating for abusive behavior and determining appropriate enforcement actions. Factors we may take into consideration include, but are not limited to whether:

  • the behavior is targeted at an individual or group of people;
  • the report has been filed by the target of the abuse or a bystander;
  • the behavior is newsworthy and in the legitimate public interest.


Violence and physical harm

Violence: You may not make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people. This includes, but is not limited to, threatening or promoting terrorism. You also may not affiliate with organizations that — whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform — use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes.

Suicide or self-harm: You may not promote or encourage suicide or self-harm. When we receive reports that a person is threatening suicide or self-harm, we may take a number of steps to assist them, such as reaching out to that person and providing resources such as contact information for our mental health partners.

Child sexual exploitation: You may not promote child sexual exploitation. Learn more about our zero-tolerance child sexual exploitation policy.


Abuse and hateful conduct

Abuse: You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice.

Unwanted sexual advances: You may not direct abuse at someone by sending unwanted sexual content, objectifying them in a sexually explicit manner, or otherwise engaging in sexual misconduct.

Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. Read more about our hateful conduct policy.

Hateful imagery and display names: You may not use hateful images or symbols in your profile image or profile header. You also may not use your username, display name, or profile bio to engage in abusive behavior, such as targeted harassment or expressing hate towards a person, group, or protected category. 


Private information and intimate media

Private information: You may not publish or post other people's private information without their express authorization and permission. Definitions of private information may vary depending on local laws. Read more about our private information policy.

Intimate media: You may not post or share intimate photos or videos of someone that were produced or distributed without their consent. Read more about intimate media on Twitter.

Threats to expose / hack: You may not threaten to expose someone’s private information or intimate media. You also may not threaten to hack or break into someone’s digital information.


Impersonation

You may not impersonate individuals, groups, or organizations in a manner that is intended to or does mislead, confuse, or deceive others. While you may maintain parody, fan, commentary, or newsfeed accounts, you may not do so if the intent of the account is to engage in spamming or abusive behavior. Read more about our impersonation policy.

Spam and Security

We strive to protect people on Twitter from technical abuse and spam.

To promote a stable and secure environment on Twitter, you may not do, or attempt to do, any of the following while accessing or using Twitter:

  • Access, tamper with, or use non-public areas of Twitter, Twitter’s computer systems, or the technical delivery systems of Twitter’s providers (except as expressly permitted by the Twitter Bug Bounty program).
  • Probe, scan, or test the vulnerability of any system or network, or breach or circumvent any security or authentication measures (except as expressly permitted by the Twitter Bug Bounty program).
  • Access or search, or attempt to access or search, Twitter by any means (automated or otherwise) other than through our currently available, published interfaces that are provided by Twitter (and only pursuant to the applicable terms and conditions), unless you have been specifically allowed to do so in a separate agreement with Twitter. Note that crawling Twitter is permissible if done in accordance with the provisions of the robots.txt file; however, scraping Twitter without our prior consent is expressly prohibited.
  • Forge any TCP/IP packet header or any part of the header information in any email or posting, or in any way use Twitter to send altered, deceptive, or false source-identifying information.
  • Interfere with or disrupt the access of any user, host or network, including, without limitation, sending a virus, overloading, flooding, spamming, mail-bombing Twitter’s services, or by scripting the creation of content in such a manner as to interfere with or create an undue burden on Twitter.

Any accounts engaging in the following activities may be temporarily locked or subject to permanent suspension:

  • Malware/Phishing: You may not publish or link to malicious content intended to damage or disrupt another person’s browser or computer or to compromise a person’s privacy. 
  • Spam: You may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of spamming anyone. Spam is generally defined on Twitter as bulk or aggressive activity that attempts to manipulate or disrupt Twitter or the experience of users on Twitter to drive traffic or attention to unrelated accounts, products, services, or initiatives. Some of the factors that we take into account when determining what conduct is considered to be spamming include:
    • if you have followed and/or unfollowed a large number of of accounts in a short time period, particularly by automated means (aggressive following or follower churn);
    • if your Tweets or Direct Messages consist mainly of links shared without commentary;
    • if a large number of people have blocked you in response to high volumes of untargeted, unsolicited, or duplicative content or engagements from your account;
    • if a large number of spam complaints have been filed against you;
    • if you post duplicative or substantially similar content, replies, or mentions over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account, or create duplicate or substantially similar accounts;
    • if you post multiple updates to a trending or popular topic with an intent to subvert or manipulate the topic to drive traffic or attention to unrelated accounts, products, services, or initiatives;
    • if you send large numbers of unsolicited replies or mentions;
    • if you add users to lists in a bulk or aggressive manner;
    • if you are randomly or aggressively engaging with Tweets (e.g., likes, Retweets, etc.) or users (e.g., following, adding to lists or Moments, etc.) to drive traffic or attention to unrelated accounts, products, services, or initiatives;
    • if you repeatedly post other people’s account information as your own (e.g., bio, Tweets, profile URL, etc.);
    • if you post misleading, deceptive, or malicious links (e.g., affiliate links, links to malware/clickjacking pages, etc.);
    • if you create fake accounts, account interactions, or impressions;
    • if you sell, purchase, or attempt to artificially inflate account interactions (such as followers, Retweets, likes, etc.); and
    • if you use or promote third-party services or apps that claim to get you more followers, Retweets, or likes (such as follower trains, sites promising "more followers fast", or any other site that offers to automatically add followers or engagements to your account or Tweets).

Please see our support articles on following rules and best practices and automation rules and best practices for more detailed information about how the Rules apply to those particular account behaviors. Accounts created to replace suspended accounts may be permanently suspended.

Content Visibility

Accounts under investigation or which have been detected as sharing content in violation of these Rules may have their account or Tweet visibility limited in various parts of Twitter, including search. To learn more about situations in which content may be restricted on Twitter, please see our support article on search rules and restrictions.

4 comments about "What Serves The Public Conversation Best".
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  1. pj bednarski from MediaPost.com, August 8, 2018 at 9:58 a.m.

    Joe, it seems to me volume creates/allows social media to avoid responsibility. There's so much posted to YouTube and Facebook, they at best they have had a  "stop it once it already happened" policy, something like Nancy Pelosi's distorted quote, "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it" re Obamacare. 
    Broadcasters, I guess, still fear regulation and that keeps really offensive stuff off TV, and they're dying. Cable with no regulation except the marketplace that can lead to real disconnects, pushes boundaries. But the Internet has until now celebrated its lack of judgment or accountability, fortified by just how much gets put up there. There's no accounting for taste. That's how lots of digital entrepreneurs got rich.

  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, August 8, 2018 at 10:04 a.m.

    PJ, Totally agree, but it's no excuse. Digital media platforms make piles of money (from advertisers and market capitalization) and have an obligation to be socially responsible. If they're not, they should be regulated like traditional media before. Broadcasters, as you note, have a regulatory compact. Cable operators are accountable to their subscribers and to the local municipalities that license them (which explains the difference in local public access programming in NYC vs. other markets). Platforms need to step up the game as responsible gatekeepers or they need to be regulated. It's there's to lose.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 8, 2018 at 12:58 p.m.

    Pj and Joe, I agree and it seems to me that digital players such as Twitter, FB, etc. are simply begging the Feds to intervene because they do not take bolder and more widely acceptable steps to moderate---or remove---offensive and anti-social behavior on their platforms. Couple this with the vexing privacy issue as well as "errors" in data reporting and it may not be long before the Feds make a move.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 8, 2018 at 6:35 p.m.

    Publishers. They are publishers. Except when THEY don't want to be. THEY ARE publishers and must be held to the publishing fire by using editors for every thing they publish just like print and broadcast. And yes, the world would be a much better place and maybe even allow it to survive without the Twits and its motherload.

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