Twitter Forms A “Trust & Safety Council” To Balance Abuse Vs Free Speech

Twitter’s latest step in the tricky balancing act of championing free speech without also handing a free pass to orchestrated harassment via its platform is the announcement today that it’s formed a “Trust & Safety Council” comprised of multiple external organizations with various interests in the two issues.

The company said today that the Twitter Trust & Safety Council will provide “input on our safety products, policies, and programs”.

“Twitter works with safety advocates, academics, and researchers; grassroots advocacy organizations that rely on Twitter to build movements; and community groups working to prevent abuse,” it adds.

In a blog announcing the move, Patricia Cartes, Twitter’s Head of Global Policy Outreach, writes that a “multi-layered approach” is necessary “to ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely on Twitter”.

“As we develop products, policies, and programs, our Trust & Safety Council will help us tap into the expertise and input of organizations at the intersection of these issues more efficiently and quickly. In developing the Council, we are taking a global and inclusive approach so that we can hear a diversity of voices from organizations,” she adds.

At this inaugural point, Twitter has more than 40 organizations signed up to its council — including Feminist Frequency, the organization of feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian (one of several high profile women who have suffered abuse via Twitter). Other listed groups include the Internet Watch Foundation, which works to combat child abuse online; counselling organization the Samaritans; and the Anti-Defamation League, which works to combat anti-Semitism. Other organizations include anti-domestic violence, anti-bullying and anti-hate speech groups.

We’ve reached out to Twitter to ask for more details on how the council will work in practice and will update this post with any response.

The Council’s page links to Twitter’s policies, where it notes: “we don’t tolerate violent threats or Tweets that promote violence. We also prohibit content that threatens or promotes violence or terrorism against a person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, age or disability.”

A year ago, Twitter’s then CEO Dick Costolo wrote an internal memo to staff saying “we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform”. Since then Twitter has taken a series of steps aimed at improving how it deals with harassment and abuse — including moves to automatically identify and limit the spread of abusive tweets, and simplify the threat reporting process for users. It has also made changes to the anti-harassment tools it offers users.

The formation of a trust & safety council is a welcome step, although it remains to be seen how Twitter will tap the collective wisdom of such a large and diverse group of organizations in practice — and how that intel will end up shaping its policies. But it’s certainly a positive move and a better approach to a nuanced problem than early years Twitter, which preferred to proclaim the ‘tweets must flow‘ when faced with questions about the limits of free speech.

A global platform that seeks to contain and channel myriad points of view needs a more mature understanding of multiple perspectives on speech — and asking 40+ varied organizations to weigh in is certainly one way to achieve that.

Twitter is also one of the tech platforms that recently agreed to work faster to fight hate speech in Germany, as the government there works to combat a spike in racist sentiments being expressed online following a rise in the number of refugees entering the country. So it’s seen the pressure being applied on Facebook, for example, which had been facing investigation by the German government for not doing more to combat hate speech on its platform.

Facebook is now working with local Internet safety organizations in Germany to improve its response there, much like Twitter is now doing on an international level by looping in multiple relevant stakeholder organizations in an advisory capacity.