Twitter’s Updated ‘Zero Tolerance’ Violent Speech Policy Prohibits ‘Wishes of Harm’ and Inciting War Crimes or Genocide

Elon Musk-owned Twitter, seeking to reassure users and advertisers that it’s taking a hard-line stand against violent speech, released an update to its policies that more explicitly bans certain types of threats.

According to the updated policy, released Feb. 28, Twitter users “may not wish, hope, or express desire for harm. This includes (but is not limited to) hoping for others to die, suffer illnesses, tragic incidents or experience other physically harmful consequences.” Previously, such “wishes of harm” were not actionable under the company’s violent threats policy, which was last updated in March 2019 (although such threats may have been reviewed under its policies regarding abusive behavior and hateful conduct).

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In addition, Twitter’s updated Violent Speech policy bans “inciting others to commit atrocity crimes including crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide,” which also includes using coded language (aka “dog whistles”) to indirectly incite violence. Furthermore, the updated policy — in addition to prohibiting threats to physically harm others — also bans threatening to “damage civilian homes and shelters, or infrastructure that is essential to daily, civic or business activities.”

The updated policy also includes new verbiage explaining that Twitter will allow certain exceptions, including usage of “figures of speech, satire or artistic expression when the context is expressing a viewpoint rather than instigating actionable violence or harm.”

Users who violate Twitter’s Violent Speech “in most cases” will be immediately and permanently suspended, according to the company. For less severe violations, the company may require a user to delete the violative content before they can regain access to their account.

“[H]ealthy conversations can’t thrive when violent speech is used to deliver a message,” Twitter’s Violent Speech policy says. “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.”

Just prior to Musk closing the $44 billion deal for Twitter, he posted an open letter to advertisers promising that the social network will not “become a free-for-all hellscape.” “In addition to adhering to the laws of the land, our platform must be warm and welcoming to all, where you can choose your desired experience according to your preferences, just as you can choose, for example, to see movies or play video games ranging from all ages to mature,” Musk wrote.

Twitter has been criticized for reported upticks in hate speech appearing on the service since the multibillionaire tech tycoon bought the company last fall (allegations Musk has denied).

Under his ownership, Musk has dramatically cut back Twitter’s workforce in an effort to reduce costs. The company had about 7,500 employees when Musk took over. This past weekend, Twitter laid off “at least” 200 more staffers, representing 10% of the company’s approximately 2,000 remaining employees, the New York Times reported.

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