Twitter has unveiled a new policy on violent speech that expands restrictions on some types of threats uttered on its platform, including new prohibitions on using coded language to incite violence indirectly as well as a ban on wishing harm on others and on making direct threats against physical infrastructure.
“Healthy conversations can’t thrive when violent speech is used to deliver a message,” the new policy reads. “As a result, we have a zero tolerance policy towards violent speech in order to ensure the safety of our users and prevent the normalization of violent actions.”
The new policy updates Twitter’s rules against incitement to explicitly ban encouragement of war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity, along with the use of “dog whistles” in speech to evade detection and enforcement.
Under the new policy, users may also not express hopes that others may suffer death or illness, tragic incidents or “other physically harmful consequences.” And the existing provisions barring violent threats adds a new line banning threats “to damage civilian homes and shelters, or infrastructure that is essential to daily, civic, or business activities.”
The policy against threats to infrastructure comes amid a spike in physical attacks on the US electric grid that have been linked to domestic extremism. Twitter, which has laid off much of its communications staff, did not immediately respond to CNN’s questions about whether the policy was a response to the violence.
As before, Twitter reserves the right to immediately and permanently suspend any account violating the policy, and to impose temporary restrictions for less severe violations.
As written, Twitter’s new policy could make interpretation of the rules somewhat more subjective than before. It also comes at a time when Twitter has less staff to review potential violations, following waves of layoffs under new owner Elon Musk.
Twitter’s previous policy on violent threats, last issued in March 2019, explicitly described the types of statements that might trigger enforcement. It offered a specific definition for what Twitter would consider a violent threat — “statements of an intent to kill or inflict serious physical harm on a specific person or group of people” — and provided examples of such statements that would invite scrutiny. The old policy said statements saying “I will,” “I’m going to,” and “I plan to” commit acts of violence against specific people or groups of people were disallowed.
The new policy continues to forbid users from threatening to inflict physical harm on others, including “threatening to kill, torture, sexually assault or otherwise hurt someone,” and names other prohibited activities. But it does not provide specific definitions of what constitutes a threat that may be used to evaluate individual tweets.