Twitter wants to police its users both on and off the service.
Twitter has put itself in quite the predicament.
Here’s how it started: Twitter recently verified Jason Kessler, the white supremacist who helped organize the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, back in August.
Lots of people on Twitter got mad. They felt like Twitter, the company, was endorsing Kessler by verifying his account. Twitter promised to review its verification policies.
The result: Kessler, and a handful of other white nationalists, lost their blue checkmark verifications as part of the new rules, which state the company can remove a user’s verification badge if that person violates the company’s guidelines.
Crisis averted, right? Everyone happy that no more white supremacists are getting Twitter’s stamp of approval?
Well, not so fast. Included in the new verification guidelines was this: “Twitter reserves the right to remove verification at any time without notice. Reasons for removal may reflect behaviors on and off Twitter that include…”
That was behaviors both on and off Twitter.
With a single sentence, Twitter has saddled itself with an incredible burden. It not only plans to police its users while they’re using the service. Now it has to police them when they’re not on Twitter, too.
That’s an extremely tall order for any company. It’s unclear how Twitter will do this, or how active it will be in searching for violators.
But the wording was not accidental. Twitter is actually doubling down on the approach. On Friday, the company published new guidelines around violence and physical harm. Again, it promised to hold users accountable for their offline behavior.
“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,” Twitter wrote.
So if you’re part of a group that doesn’t follow Twitter’s guidelines off the service, you could now be punished by the company on the service.
This is a very a slipper slope. You probably won’t find many people upset that Twitter took away the verification badge of a white supremacist.
But Twitter has now signed up to serve as the judge and jury for all kinds of social issues and behaviors that may have nothing to do with its service. That’s a massive moral undertaking for a company with a long history of defending free speech, often at the expense of some of its users who might feel bullied or harassed.
Twitter is policing itself more aggressively than ever. The question now becomes whether or not the pendulum can swing too far the other way.
On top of it all, it’s clear now that a Twitter verification has more meaning than ever before. The Verge’s Casey Newton summed it up well this week: “Twitter has now made that endorsement explicit. A badge is now more than a marker of identity — it’s a badge of approval, as well.”
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