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Twitter plans to prohibit ‘dehumanizing language,’ such as comparisons to animals, viruses

September 25, 2018

Twitter on Tuesday announced plans to prohibit “dehumanizing language” on its platform, including tweets comparing people to animals and viruses.

In a blog post, members of Twitter’s trust and safety team asked users for their input on a pending rule change that would broaden the company’s existing hateful conduct policy to include language that treats others as “less than human.”

“You may not dehumanize anyone based on membership in an identifiable group, as this speech can lead to offline harm,” reads Twitter’s proposed policy change.

“Dehumanization can occur when others are denied of human qualities (animalistic dehumanization) or when others are denied of human nature (mechanistic dehumanization). Examples can include comparing groups to animals and viruses (animalistic), or reducing groups to their genitalia (mechanistic),” Twitter’s trust and safety team explained.

Identifiable groups include any groups of people that can be distinguished by shared characteristics such as race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, religion, age, disability, disease, occupation, political beliefs or social practices, the blog post said.

“Language that makes someone less than human can have repercussions off the service, including normalizing serious violence,” wrote Twitter attorney Vijaya Gadde and Del Harvey, vice president for Twitter’s trust and safety division.

Twitter has asked users for feedback on the proposal before the policy change is finalized and potentially put into place.

“This is part of our singular effort to increase the health of the public conversation on our service,” the blog post said.

Twitter has repeatedly been accused of arbitrarily applying its existing rules prohibiting hateful conduct, including as recently as last month when the company came under fire for not joining other tech companies including Facebook and YouTube by banning right-wing media personality Alex Jones prior to eventually following suit on Sept. 6.

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