Twitter suspends white supremacist accounts

Glenn Chapman, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 17 2016 09:59 AM

People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken September 27, 2013. Kacper Pempel, Reuters/Illustration/File Photo

SAN FRANCISCO - Twitter accounts of white supremacy advocates who cheered Donald Trump's election victory were mute on Wednesday, suspended as the social network battles hateful vitriol spewed by "trolls."

Terminated Twitter accounts included that of Richard Spencer, a leader in an 'alt-right' white nationalist movement in the US, and accounts associated with his magazine and "think tank."

"I think Twitter, Facebook and others are deeply triggered by this election and that social media helped elect Trump," Spencer said in a video posted on YouTube.

Spencer compared the account suspensions to Adolf Hitler in 1934 wiping out opposition to his Nazi Party to consolidate power in Germany in what is referred to in history as the Night of the Long Knives.

"Basically, my entire digital presence on Twitter has been suspended," he said in the video.

"It is corporate Stalinism; there is a great purge going on."

In response to an AFP inquiry, Twitter referred to its rules prohibiting "violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct," and its promise to take action on accounts violating those policies.

BULLY BANE

The account suspensions came after Twitter on Tuesday began rolling out a new weapon in the fight against harassment by "trolls" whose often abusive onslaughts can make the messaging service an unwelcoming place.

Online social networks have been struggling to balance free speech with intimidation and aggression that make many fearful of speaking freely.

Twitter in February suspended more than 125,000 accounts, most of them linked to the Islamic State group, as part of increased efforts to eradicate "terrorist content" on the popular messaging platform.

"The amount of abuse, bullying, and harassment we've seen across the internet has risen sharply over the past few years," Twitter said as it announced an expanded "mute" feature that enables users to block accounts sending inappropriate messages.

Twitter will let users eliminate, or mute, notifications based on keywords, phrases or entire conversations they are not interested in seeing, according to the San Francisco-based company.

INCITING HARM

Twitter already prohibits hate speech based on race, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

In its response to AFP, Twitter pointed out a section of its policy stating that it does not allow accounts "whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others."

Measures announced on Tuesday included providing a more direct way for people to report abusive behavior, even if they are a witness to it and not the target.

Twitter support staff have been retrained on its policies and internal processes have been tuned to deal more effectively with reports of abusive behavior, with a goal of being faster and more transparent in handling situations, Twitter said.

Reasoning included making Twitter a more welcoming platform, ideally ramping up the number of users and the amount of time they spend engaged on the platform.

The moves come after a series of complaints and high-profile instances of abuse on the social network.

In July, "Ghostbusters" star Leslie Jones briefly quit Twitter after what she said was a stream of abuse fueled by comments from an editor at the conservative news site Breitbart.

Twitter said that it has seen a growing trend in people taking advantage of the openness of the service to abuse others.

"We don't expect these announcements to suddenly remove abusive conduct from Twitter," its statement said.

"Instead we commit to rapidly improving Twitter based on everything we observe and learn."