“Get a rope — hang yourself.” The tweets are wildly, flagrantly hateful. The kind of offensive language, in fact, that Twitter just developed an algorithm to detect. Yet Twitter is getting paid to publish them, pushing abusive speech to a wide audience.
Last week, Twitter users had the unpleasant experience of seeing tweets from a white supremacist groups and trolls pop up in their timelines as promoted tweets. This week, a variety of transphobic hate speech popped up in another series of deranged word-pus.
What the fucking FUCK?! pic.twitter.com/xRqCQJz2n0
— Ed Fear (@edfear) May 20, 2015
I asked Twitter if it planned to change its vetting process to make it harder for hate speech to appear in promoted tweets and got a delightful non-answer. “Twitter does not allow the promotion of hate content, including hate speech against a group based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” a spokesperson said. “Once this instance was flagged, we immediately suspended the account and stopped the campaign.”
In Twitter’s policy on hate content, it does “prohibit” hate speech. Yet hate speech keeps appearing in its promoted content. What’s the good of prohibiting something if you’re not doing anything to prevent it? It’s like Twitter has an accept money for promoted tweets now, figure out if promoted tweets are howlingly offensive, abusive speech later policy. And that sucks.
Just like what happened last week with the white supremacists, the transphobic trolls in this incident used another person’s name to promote their agenda; the “Caitlin Roper” account was a clone of a feminist activist in Australia, specifically designed to rankle her reputation. Even though Twitter did remove the promoted tweets and suspended the impostor account, the real Caitlin Roper still had to deal with her name and likeness appearing all over Twitter as a cruel bigot.
Again, Twitter made money off of a hate group stealing someone’s identity to tell a minority group to commit suicide. How is that OK?
Twitter is a big platform. Of course people are going to tweet awful stuff sometimes. The sheer volume of tweets makes it impossible to stop hate language from cropping up altogether, and asking Twitter to proactively police the whole of its exponentially expanding archive of 140-character statements is a tall order.
But promoted tweets are a very different thing than regular tweets. Promoted tweets are advertisements. Promoted tweets appear in our timelines whether we follow someone or not. They are accorded special status and a wider audience. If Twitter gives everyone a voice, promoted tweets are a loudspeaker you need to pay to use.
Twitter can’t stop idiots from shouting, but it can refuse to accept money from bigots who want to proselytize hate.