Since last year, Twitter has been hard at work creating a new policy banning “dehumanizing speech”.
Yesterday, the company released an update on their rules against hateful conduct, specifically expanding the category to include ‘language that dehumanises others on the basis of religion’.
Users are no longer allowed to call people maggots, or vermin, or viruses. Doing this can get an account suspended or banned entirely.
But the initial concerns raised last year that led to the review did not mention religion. At the time, the company faced public criticism over its lack of action over far-right conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones.
Given that women seem to be disproportionately targeted by trolls, and face derogatory and discriminatory comments online, as we’ve seen in the case of AFLW player Tayla Harris, why was religion selected before gender?
Here’s what we know: Online threats correlate to real world violence. If you’re a woman, the risks and dangers are greater. Trolling of women is linked to domestic violence and abuse. More women than men are trolled.
Jerrel Peterson, Twitter’s head of safety policy, said in an interview: “While we have started with religion, our intention has always been and continues to be an expansion to all protected categories.”
Twitter’s Safety Team @TwitterSafety say they want to ‘Make sure Twitter is a safer place for everyone,’ but the critical question will be whether these rules will be actively enforced.
If you read the Twitter rules closely, (titled ‘Hateful Conduct Policy’) you’ll see that banned rhetoric includes “inciting fear about a protected category,” using “all [religious group] are terrorists” as an example.
Journalist Ginger Gorman recently wrote a book about her experience being trolled by a white supremacist, describing it as ‘like being skinned alive.’
Gorman, along with Tayla Harris, Clementine Ford, Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi, lawyer Mariam Veiszadeh and a host of other prominent women have been trolled mercilessly.
Currently, the policy remains one that avoids broad limits on ‘dehumanizing’ speech. Adjusting the language of the policy and wanting to ‘be methodical’ might not be enough.