Twitter praised for adopting stricter policy on hate speech

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Following aggressive lobbying and legal action by Jewish and non-Jewish anti-racism groups, Twitter toughened its policy on hate speech.

The new policy adopted Tuesday, extends Twitter’s prohibition on making threats beyond “direct, specific threats of violence against others” to include also ”threats of violence against others or promot(ing) violence against others,” Twitter’s head of product management Shreyas Doshi said in a blog post. The previous policy “was unduly narrow and limited our ability to act on certain kinds of threatening behavior,” Doshi wrote.

The Anti-Defamation League, a New York-based international watchdog on anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia, commended Twitter’s policy change, calling it an “important step in the realm of combating hate” on social media.

“We are pleased that Twitter has recognized the need to respond to hateful content more effectively than they have in the past,” said Christopher Wolf, who is in charge of the ADL’s civil rights department.

In 2013, the Paris Court of Appeals ruled against Twitter in a lawsuit brought the previous year by the Union of Jewish Students of France over the hashtag #UnBonJuif, which means “a good Jew” and which was used to index thousands of anti-Semitic comments that violated France’s law against hate speech.

Twitter resisted pressure to ban the phrase and refused to disclose the identities of users who wrote it, citing the need to observe freedom of speech and to allow users to exercise what the California-based website calls “counter speech.”

Activists heralded the ruling as a watershed moment in the fight against hate speech online, citing what they said was growing willingness by other social media to implement censorship after the ruling.

Critics of the ruling, however, maintain it constitutes a dangerous precedent for judicial and government infringement on individual users’ speech — including by tyrannical regimes.