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Twitter suspends white nationalists as new rules take effect

Twitter suspends white nationalists as new rules take effect
Twitter has begun enforcing new rules aimed at filtering out "hateful" and "abusive" content. (Loic Venance / AFP/Getty Images)

Twitter Inc. suspended the accounts of several well-known white nationalists Monday after putting into place new rules on what it sees as abusive content.

The account of far-right group Britain First, which regularly posts inflammatory videos purporting to show Muslims engaged in acts of violence, was among the first to go dark. The individual accounts of two of its leaders, Jayda Fransen and Paul Golding, were also suspended.

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President Trump caused a stir last month when he retweeted a post by Fransen, drawing criticism from British Prime Minister Theresa May. Fransen and Golding were arrested in Belfast last week, accused of stirring up hatred.

Twitter said it would not comment on individual accounts. The San Francisco company has emphasized that it takes into account many factors before making any enforcement decision, including the context of the post, cultural and political considerations and the severity of the violation.

Twitter's actions drew praise from civil rights groups.

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, commended Twitter “for taking these significant steps to tackle hate on their platform.” The group Muslim Advocates, which had called for the removal of Britain First's account, applauded Twitter for “updating its policies and taking steps today to remove violent and hateful accounts from its platform.”

Twitter’s guidelines — announced a month ago and put into force this week — address hateful images or symbols, including those attached to user profiles.

Monitors at the company are to weigh hateful imagery in the same way they do graphic violence and adult content.

If a user wants to post symbols or images that might be considered hateful, the post must be marked “sensitive media.” Other users would then see a warning that would allow them to decide whether to view the post.

Twitter is also prohibiting users from abusing or threatening others through their profiles or usernames. And it now bans accounts affiliated with “organizations that use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes.”

The account for Jared Taylor, who heads the New Century Foundation, was among those suspended, along with his organization's flagship online publication, American Renaissance.

Taylor said he immediately appealed the suspension but swiftly received a reply from Twitter informing him that his account would not be restored, which he interpreted to mean he had been permanently banned.

He said Twitter determined that his account was “affiliated with a violent extremist group.”

“Of all the preposterous things they could have said about me or American Renaissance, I can't think of anything more preposterous,” Taylor said.

New Century Foundation has been recognized as a charity by the IRS, a decision that has drawn criticism from civil rights advocates. Taylor has said his group raises money for the benefit of the “white race.”

Brad Griffin, who blogs under the name Hunter Wallace on the website Occidental Dissent, said in blog post that he was also suspended, along with League of the South president Michael Hill, the Traditionalist Worker Party and others.

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The white nationalist Richard Spencer, whose account was not suspended, tweeted that he had lost more than 100 followers in the last 24 hours and that he didn't “see any systematic method to the #TwitterPurge.”

There appeared to be some inconsistencies. Twitter let David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, keep the message “It's Ok To Be White” as his header, even though the same phrase was hidden by the “sensitive material” warning on his pinned tweet.

The social media company is continuing to work out internal monitoring tools and it is revamping the appeals process for banned or suspended accounts. But it will begin accepting reports from users, who can note profiles, or users, that they consider to be in violation of Twitter policy. Previously, users could report only individual posts they deemed offensive.

Now being targeted are “logos, symbols, or images whose purpose is to promote hostility and malice against others based on their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin,” the company said.

There is no specific list of banned symbols or images. Rather, the company will review complaints individually to consider the context of the post or profile, including cultural and political considerations.

It is also broadening existing policies intended to reduce threatening content, and those policies will now cover imagery that glorifies or celebrates violent acts. That content will be removed and repeat offenders will be banned, it said. Beginning Monday, the company said it will ban accounts affiliated with “organizations that use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes.”

Meanwhile, Twitter has provided more leeway for itself after it was criticized for strict rules that resulted in account suspensions.

There was a backlash against Twitter after it suspended the account of actress Rose McGowan, who opened a public campaign concerning sexual harassment and abuse that specifically named Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Twitter eventually reinstated McGowan's account and said that it had been suspended because of a tweet that violated its rules on privacy.

“In our efforts to be more aggressive here, we may make some mistakes and are working on a robust appeals process,” Twitter said in its blog post.

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