Tweet Tweet Motherfucker


Things are changing at Britain’s second favourite social network. Not only is Twitter considering ditching the 140 character limit it has become synonymous with for one of, say, 10,000 symbols, it has also updated its terms of service with a passage that prohibits promoting violence against, directly attacking, or threating other users “on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.” Do so and you get banned.

This comes as part of a wider shift among previously laissez-faire social media to begin regulating their own content more proactively. Reddit, previously infamous for allowing its users to do almost anything that wouldn’t get the webmasters arrested, shut down a number of its more objectionable user-created subreddits last year in line with a similar new anti-harassment policy.

But for it to lag so far behind even Reddit makes me wonder what took Twitter so long, and while the listed attributes seem fairly comprehensive from the perspective of culling discrimination, is there ever a situation where it’s okay to tweet a death threat? It strikes me as telling that this anti-harassment policy comes concurrent with the discussion of raising the character limit per tweet, making me think that rather than being an important but ultimately superficial attempt to stamp out abuse, this move is part of a significant realignment of Twitter’s functionality on a fundamental level in response to the site’s growth issues and competitors like Tumblr and Medium.

If implemented comprehensively, these changes could make Twitter into something it currently isn’t: a platform that actually facilitates meaningful communication. While opponents to the new regulations call them an attack on freedom of speech, a platform with as profound a harassment problem as Twitter has had risks allowing real freedom only to those secure enough in their social position to either shrug off a verbal beating or not attract one in the first place. A network that enables people from all backgrounds to contribute to the conversation without fear of harassment is surely the freer one.
[Neil Weaving – @weavo2k6]

Originally Published in the Love issue, 02/02/16

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