Hate speech, in 140 characters or less

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Twitter may only allow 140 characters a post, but that still leaves plenty of room for hate—and in the name of free speech, the company is fine with that.

The ultra-popular micro-blogging site has caught on with people from all walks of life, all over the world; the potential for truly diverse exchange is exciting, but it also opens the floodgates for a lot of interactions that aren’t so positive. 

Posts can be tagged with whatever the writer chooses, and doing a search by topic can reveal posts so blatantly hateful, it’s shocking. Only on the Internet can a picture-spam post of baby bunnies devolve into an abortion argument, and the vitriol spewed on even seemingly innocuous topics can be disturbing.

A Jewish student organization in France was more than disturbed last year when a rash of anti-Semitic tweets suddenly trended, with hashtags translating to “a good Jew”; tweets stating “the only good Jew is a dead Jew” or “burned Jew” quickly followed. European law bans hate speech, and the group sued Twitter to reveal the identities of those users.

While most social media sites have rules against groups and messages promoting hate, Twitter has chosen to be an exception. Their terms of service explicitly say users “may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others” but, goes no further than that. 

Such a large social media network would admittedly be difficult to police; Twitter has over 200 million active users according to the site’s own statistics. An entry on the official blog states, “at Twitter, we have identified our own responsibilities and limits… we strive not to remove Tweets on the basis of their content.” 

Twitter does block certain posts on a country-by-country basis, according to local law; for example, neo-Nazi posts are blocked in Germany. However, even when a French court ruled that Twitter must hand over the information of the anti-Semitic posters, the company refused. Being based in San Francisco, Twitter insists France has no jurisdiction over it, and all legal proceedings must follow local law.

Some of the offensive tweets were removed, but a search for many of the related keywords and hashtags reveal thousands more; icons with swastikas and other symbols of hate are plentiful, and many tweets contain undeniable threats of violence.

Twitter could not be immediately reached for comment.

429Magazine

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