For months, countless denizens of social media have been making a pretty simple request to the proprietors of Twitter: Could you please ban Nazis from your website? And at long last, based on some new rules coming into effect next week, it's possible that some action will be taken ― if you've been hoping Twitter will start banning Nazis, there's now at least a reason to feel some cautious optimism.
It's no surprise that this has become such a high-profile issue, as the rise of racist, reactionary social media accounts has become increasingly visible over the past couple of years, exacerbated by the conspiracy-minded far-right's role in the 2016 presidential election. Throughout 2017, white supremacist activity has achieved increased visibility, most memorably in the deadly neo-Nazi demonstrations that descended on the city of Charlottesville, Virginia in August.
Anti-racist Twitter users have recently stepped up their insistence and calls for change in pointed and creative ways; since Twitter expanded the maximum length of profile names, with many users adding some variation of "...would like Twitter to ban Nazis" to their monikers. In short, frustration and outrage has been mounting.
But, as Aja Romano pointed out for Vox on Friday, Twitter actually teased a policy change back in November that's about to take effect, and if it actually followed through, it could have big implications for the presence of violent racism and hatred on the platform.
Twitter announced the new policy last month, and stated that it'll take effect on Monday, Dec. 18. The particularly relevant portion regards affiliation with violent organizations, as well as specific threats of violence or wish for "serious physical harm" or "death" of individuals or groups. It also states that Twitter will consider statements and activity "both on and off the platform."
You may not make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people. This includes, but is not limited to, threatening or promoting terrorism. You also may not affiliate with organizations that — whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform — use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes. We will begin enforcing this rule around affiliation with such organizations on December 18, 2017.
Obviously, the devil is in the details. How effective this new policy ends up being will likely depend on how Twitter enforces it, as well as whether there are any unintended consequences. The company took a sort of half-measure action against some high-profile white nationalist and supremacist accounts last month, stripping verified status from alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer, and Jason Kessler, the organizer of the Charlottesville "Unite The Right" rally, among others.
For those Twitter users who've been calling for neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists to be banned, some have recently discovered a creative workaround in the meantime: setting their locations to Germany or France, where it's mandated that neo-Nazi and right-wing extremist accounts are filtered out.
For those who don't want to have to claim to be from an entirely different country than their own, however, it looks as if some changes could be coming soon. To be clear, it's impossible to know for certain how aggressively or assertively Twitter will actually change its procedures and practices regarding suspending and banning accounts after the new policies take effect.
But for the time being, the pending new policy at least raises the possibility that some purveyors of social media racial hatred, both high and low-profile alike, could end up being de-platformed. Again, for anyone who's counting down the days, the new policies are supposed slated to take effect next week, on Monday, Dec. 18.