In case you somehow forgot, Twitter’s “birthday” is once again right around the corner. As of this Saturday, 14 years will have passed since Twitter’s founder, Jack Dorsey – who at the time hilariously thought people might actually pay to use his platform, now dubbed “the hell site” – tweeted the very first tweet.
Not everyone’s coming to the party.
Dozens of civil rights organisations are instead planning to publicly call out Dorsey for his role in lending a “megaphone” to a shady cast of prominent white supremacists with whom the company has, for inexplicable reasons, refused to banish. This, even though its chief competitors, Facebook and YouTube, both moved to do so last year.
The groups involved include those comprising Change the Terms, a broad coalition of racial justice and civil rights groups pressuring tech companies to adopt new policies to oppose the normalisation of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and religious bigotry, among other displays of prejudice, which encourage what members call “hateful activities.” That is, the use of threats, harassment, intimidation, and the like.
In an open letter obtained first by Gizmodo, the coalition puts Dorsey on blast for what they deem his “inaction,” adding that Twitter has not only allowed white supremacists to “amplify and normalise hate-filled ideologies,” but “organise violent real-world events” – including the 2017 murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia – and “publicise their acts of violence.”
“As Twitter turns 14 years old, it is disappointing that it has yet to establish a policy that keeps its users safe,” it says. “Now that Twitter is older and wiser, we ask that you honour the requests we have made alongside more than 110,000 petition signers over the past six months, that Twitter immediately ban white supremacists from the site and adopt the Change the Terms coalition’s model corporate policies to curb online hate.”
Twitter acknowledged receiving the letter but declined to comment.
Change the Terms, which includes organisations Color of Change, Free Press, and Muslim Advocates, among around 50 others, is joined in this public shaming of Dorsey by Sleeping Giants, UltraViolet, the Greenlining Institute, and Line Break Media.
“In today’s increasingly digital world, hateful activities online are turning into real-world violence offline,” Steven Renderos, executive director of MediaJustice, another Change the Term member, told Gizmodo. “Despite this new reality, Twitter refuses to ban white supremacists from weaponizing the platform to organize hate and lethal violence.”
The list of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other far-right agitators who have managed to retain considerable followings on Twitter, despite policies supposedly banning hate speech, is lengthy. Those still on the site include, for example, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, anti-immigrant demagogue Peter Brimelow, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Kevin MacDonald, among many other prominent hate figures.
A number of far-right groups and publications also maintain a presence on the platform, including VDARE, Counter-Currents, Red Ice TV, the American Freedom Party, Anti-Communist Action, Defend Europa, and neo-fascist blog The Right Stuff. Twitter also continues to play host for major propagators of conspiracy theories like Pizzagate promoter Mike Cernovich, InfoWars contributor Paul Joseph Watson, and MAGA troll Jack Posobiec.
Some of the accounts are even verified; in the case of Spencer, a report in 2018 suggested that CEO Jack Dorsey had personally intervened against an account ban. Here are some examples of the racist drivel Twitter refuses to take action against:
All told, the list shows that Twitter’s periodic purges of far-right accounts and myriad rule changes have left intact a vast ecosystem of conspiracy theorists and white supremacists, as well as ideologically adjacent personalities that promote and attempt to normalise their views – hardly surprising for a platform whose leadership mumbles vague excuses out the side of their mouths whenever they’re confronted on the problem.
In addition to noting the Charlottesville attack and Dorsey’s commitment last year to “increase the collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation,” Change the Terms highlights a recent report by one of its members – public advocacy group Free Press – concerning “pervasive hate speech and harassment” on Twitter aimed largely at people of color and women, among others.
Twitter, it concludes, “hasn’t seriously grappled with either ongoing harassment or white supremacy on its site.” While Dorsey and other top brass at the company have made repeated overtures about lessening the “burden on victims of abuse,” few steps have been taken. And while the company’s earned praise for a few “one-off actions” – such as banning conspiracy theorist Alex Jones – Free Press argues it must, at some point, reckon with the reality that it has failed to systematically protect its users.
Brandi Collins-Dexter, senior campaign director at Color Of Change, told Gizmodo that while Twitter has taken steps to remove content undermining public health efforts amid the covid-19 pandemic, it has so far made no apparent efforts to penalise accounts for nonsensically blaming Asian communities for the disease. While Twitter has acknowledged that its platform can be used for harm, she said, the impact of the decision not to prioritise the health and safety of marginalised communities is also being felt offline.
“Let’s be clear: Anything short of taking full responsibility for reigning in dangerous content on the platform, will be an insufficient response by Twitter to the threats facing our communities,” she said.
Featured image: Philip Pacheco (Getty)