Twitter seeks public feedback on how to handle world leaders’ accounts

Survey is open until April 12

CBS NEWS – Musadiq Bidar

Twitter is seeking public input on whether world leaders should be subject to the same rules as other users and wants feedback on what kind of enforcement they think would be appropriate when a world leader violates engagement rules. 

“Politicians and government officials are constantly evolving how they use our service, and we want our policies to remain relevant to the ever-changing nature of political discourse on Twitter and protect the health of the public conversation,” the company said in a blog post.

Twitter said it is also consulting with human rights experts, civil society organizations, and academics worldwide on the matter, and their responses will be reflected in future revisions to the policy. 

The survey is open through April 12 and in the coming days Twitter said it will roll out versions in 13 more languages. It asks participants what kind of action the platform should take when political candidates or elected officials post misleading information about elections and have violated the site’s rules multiple times. 

Another question asks what Twitter should do when, hypothetically, a high-ranking government official from another country makes false claims about untested COVID-19 cures in the users’ country. It also asks how to handle situations when officials tweet false claims about the coronavirus in their own countries.

It also covers hate speech and threats of violence from world leaders against citizens in their own country and citizens of other countries. Each hypothetical situation Twitter poses in the survey notes whether it is the world leader’s first violation or a repeated offense.

Republican lawmakers have criticized Twitter in recent months for its content moderation policies. In congressional hearings Senators Roger Wicker, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham alleged that Twitter’s content moderation practices unfairly silence conservative voices on the platform. 

During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in October, Wicker, who was then the chairman of the committee, asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey why it took the company months to label a tweet from the Chinese community party spokesperson that claimed the U.S military was to blame for the spread of the coronavirus but immediately fact-checked a post by former President Trump declaring that mail-in ballots are susceptible to fraud. 

“Your platform allows foreign dictators to post propaganda typically without restriction, yet you routinely restrict the president of the United States,” Wicker told Dorsey during the hearing in October. 

Dorsey said the company has taken action against tweets from leaders all around the world and considers the severity of potential harm when posts violate rules of engagement. 

We believe it is important for everyone to hear from global leaders,” Dorsey said in response to Wicker. “We want to make sure we are respecting their right to speak and publish what they need.” 

Wicker also asked Dorsey why tweets from Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the destruction of Israel weren’t labeled or removed. 

“We did not find those to violate our terms of service because we considered them saber-rattling, which is, it is part of the speech of world leaders in concert with other countries. Speech against our own people or a country’s own citizens, we believe is different and can cause more immediate harm,” Dorsey said. 

In January, two days after the deadly riots at the U.S Capitol, Twitter permanently suspended former President Trump’s account “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Facebook, which had suspended Trump’s account indefinitely, eventually referred the case in late January to its oversight board. 

The board has the authority to overturn Facebook’s decision to ban Trump from the platform and is expected to issue its decision in the coming weeks.

Dorsey, along with Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are testifying next week before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The hearing on Thursday will be focused on the spread of misinformation and disinformation across online platforms and how the false claims related to COVID-19 have caused real-life consequences for public health.

Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said industry self-regulation is no longer working and lawmakers need to act.

“For far too long, big tech has failed to acknowledge the role they’ve played in fomenting and elevating blatantly false information to its online audience,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. said last month when he called on Dorsey, Zuckerberg, and Pichai to testify. 

“We must begin the work of changing incentives driving social media companies to allow and even promote misinformation and disinformation,” he added.

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