Twitter’s new policy and the fight against online bullying.

Twitter has recently begun working on a new policy to add to its Twitter Rules called the Dehumanization Policy. This addition seeks to address the technicality that occurs when users report Tweets that they consider abusive – but do not necessarily break the rules in Twitter’s existing hateful conduct policy.

What the new policy will mean

Twitter’s Dehumanization Policy will mean that users may not dehumanize anyone who belong to an identifiable group, as this speech can lead to offline harm.

Dehumanization meaning specifically: Language that treats others as less than human.

This can occur when others are denied of human qualities or when others are denied of human nature. Examples include comparing groups to animals and viruses (animalistic), or reducing groups to their genitalia (mechanistic). 

Why it’s about time

As much as SNS (Social Networking Services) and the Internet have revolutionary benefits, the same benefits that empower, educate and connect us can be a double edged sword. SNS can be used as a tool to express views of a negative, biased and hurtful nature. Just look at some stats* on online incivility:

  • -73% of adult Internet users have seen someone harassed in some way in SNS, and 40% have personally experienced it.
  • 60% of Internet users said they had witnessed someone being called offensive names in SNS.
  • 53% had seen efforts to purposefully embarrass someone.
  • 25% had seen someone being physically threatened.
  • 24% witnessed someone being harassed for a sustained period of time.

Hate online vs offline

Although haters will indeed hate, whether they’re standing face-to-face with someone or ranting behind a screen, let’s explore some factors that differentiates offline vs online hate, and why one would be compelled to go through SNS than real-life. Here’s what I found** trying to get to the bottom of why trolls thrive online (*pushes glasses up against the bridge of the nose*):

Anonymity & Invisibility

For those of us who create an account online, it’s easy to disassociate our online persona to our offline selves. As much as this can open a platform for us to share the parts of ourselves that we’re too shy to IRL this would also make it easier for some of us to say things we wouldn’t otherwise say to one another face-to- face.

Since there’s no real-time interaction (no physical view of another’s hurt, discomfort, shame etc.), there’s no fear of being socially correct or responsible, allowing some of us to be bolder in our opinions and speech.

Community

The internet allows for connection, which is great but there are many different kinds of connections one can make … and sometimes it’s not always so pretty. For example: online hate groups. As easy it is to join an expat’s group online when you’re teaching in a foreign country or a group for the decriminalization of marijuana, so it is with some who find a sense of belonging in finding like-minded people sharing their hate for a specific group or subject matter. It’s a click away to an enormous network of co-haters from all over the world all too eager to validate and encourage your existing opinions.

Instant & Long-lasting

In relation to the fact that we can remain anonymous and invisible to what we say, SNS also allows for us to express ourselves quicker and more impulsively, rather than having to consider the amount of time it takes for us to construct a sentence mid-conversation in due time, or to walk up to someone without any second thoughts.

Although verbal abuse offline can inflict the same amount of damage in a person, what’s said on SNS can also remain online for a long period of time (through reposts, different platforms, screenshots etc.), resulting in a relatively more damaging form of hate speech.

Have your say

Twitter wants its user’s feedback in order “to ensure we consider global perspectives and how this policy may impact different communities and cultures.” So, if you feel strongly about this issue then go ahead and fill out the survey here.

Words: Hani Kutjo Choi

Feature image by Tom Christophersen via Stanley Street Gallery

*Source: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/69090/1/MPRA_paper_69090.pdf

** https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/64133/1/Accepted_manuscript.pdf