Oct 5, 2020 - Technology

Twitter's policy of wishing people ill gets tested

Ina Fried
Illustration of a sad, sweating Twitter bird logo.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Twitter invited a torrent of criticism after publicly saying Friday that it would take action against those who wished severe illness or death on the president, citing its broad prohibition against such expressions.

The big picture: While that policy has been on the books since April, many Twitter users — especially women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities and people of color — say they have reported such abuse in the past and the service has rarely taken action.

The point is being made by everyone from movie reviewers to members of Congress to activists and ordinary people sharing their stories of harassment and threats that did not lead to enforcement action: Marginalized groups endure threats and wishes for ill on a daily basis on Twitter.

What they're saying:

  • Shorenstein Center research director Joan Donovan: "For all of us that have been subject to threats where nothing has been done, this is a bitter pill. For those of us who have witnessed twitter users wishing death upon other politicians because they are women of color, this is a disgrace."
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: "So... you mean to tell us you could've done this the whole time?"
  • Twitter responded Saturday: "We hear the voices who feel that we're enforcing some policies inconsistently. We agree we must do better, and we are working together inside to do so."

Meanwhile: Facebook said it would enforce a similar policy, but only for those who tag the president in their comments, or post them on his page.

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