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Twitter clarifies existing rules to explain enforcement rationale

Twitter has been under quite a bit of scrutiny over the last several months as detractors continue to batter the company as a haven for hate speech, online abuse, and misogyny. CEO Jack Dorsey promised changes last month, which have gradually started to roll out. Today, the company posted a new set of rules, not with any fundamental changes, but more with clarifications on what it looks for when considering punitive action.

The updated rules include numerous modifications and explanations, with a company blog post detailing some of the more important clarifications related to abusive behavior, self-harm, spam and related behavior, and graphic violence and adult content.

In particular, Twitter explained that context is important in its enforcement decisions on abusive behavior, such as "if the behavior is targeted, if a report has been filed and by whom, and if the Tweet itself is newsworthy and in the legitimate public interest.” The newsworthiness aspect was mentioned previously when Twitter rejected calls to ban President Donald Trump over tweets threatening North Korea, in turn raising nuclear tensions.

The company has also more clearly defined spam, and how it looks at accounts that exhibit "spam-like behavior." It says it focuses on "behavioral signals, not the factual accuracy of the information" that the accounts share.

There are also now specific details about what Twitter considers as “graphic violence” or “adult content,” with examples being added to the site's media policy help center page to "set expectations" of what is and is not acceptable. A further update is coming on November 22 in this area to cover "hateful imagery."

Along with the November 22 update will be a new version of the rules covering violent groups and abusive usernames.

The update is all well and good, but Twitter will need to back up its words - and clarifications - with actions. Too many times, there seems to be arbitrary enforcement of behavior that looks identical except for the status of the user making the comments. Twitter can always fall back on the "newsworthiness" claim if users are more famous or popular, although that didn't seem to help strategist and consultant Roger Stone, who was banned for life for the less-than-explicit "violation of Twitter rules."

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