It’s a busy news day for Twitter. Nearly a year after announcing its dehumanization policy to curb the hateful speech that runs rampant on the social media platform, the company is explicitly extending its rules to cover religious persecution.
Separately, a US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the First Amendment forbids President Trump from using Twitter’s “blocking” function to limit access to his account, which is otherwise open to the public. The decision comes more than a year after a district court judge ruled that Trump blocking his critics on Twitter was unconstitutional. Trump has since quietly unblocked accounts.
The First Amendment debate over the President’s Twitter usage, which has raged since he was inaugurated, ended in a unanimous 3-0 appeals decision. In his opinion, Circuit Judge Barrington Parker wrote that Trump’s Twitter account is a “main vehicle for conducting official business,” and that tweets have been characterized by aides as official statements. Tweets have even been filed as official records with the National Archives.
The Justice Department previously argued that Trump’s account was used to express personal views, not act as a “public forum” as the 2018 ruling stated. The appeals court decision affirms that because Trump uses Twitter to communicate with the public about his administration, open access is protected by the First Amendment.
“The First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees,” Judge Parker wrote.
“This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing. We remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less,” he said.
Holding Twitter Users Accountable
Twitter has also taken more action of late in holding world leaders accountable to its rules, announcing it would put warning labels on tweets from world leaders and public figures who break its rules, and downgrade those tweets in timelines and search results.
Elsewhere in the Twitterverse, the company updated its hateful conduct rules “to include language that dehumanizes others on the basis of religion.”
This is Twitter’s first update to its dehumanization policy since unveiling it in September 2018, addressing a glaring omission to the existing policy based on global feedback. More than 8,000 responses submitted to Twitter in the past year have called for clearer language describing violations, more specific criteria protecting various groups from hate speech and harassment, and most importantly: more consistent enforecement.
The updated dehumanization policy specifically bans the use of insults and slurs such as “rats” or “maggots” against religious groups. Twitter said it will employ machine learning for automated flagging and human moderators to respond to user reports, but the execution will come down to how consistently the policy is enforced. The new hate speech rules only apply to future tweets.