Twitter is reviewing its controversial policies on permanently banning users, potentially bringing its content moderation more in line with Elon Musk’s vision for the social networking platform, regardless of whether Tesla’s boss becomes its owner.
The Silicon Valley company is evaluating whether there are other content moderation tools that could replace its harsher penalty for violating certain rules, according to several people familiar with the situation.
But any changes are unlikely to pave the way for Donald Trump’s return to the platform, two of those people said, as lifting bans for violating its policy against incitement to violence is not being considered. The former US president received a lifetime ban shortly after a mob of his supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6th last year.
Instead, employees are looking at areas where they feel Twitter may have been disproportionately firm in kicking users off its services for minor offenses, such as sharing misleading information.
The review, which began months ago and has yet to come to a conclusion, comes amid a renewed focus on politics after American rapper Kanye West’s account was temporarily blocked after he posted an anti-Semitic message on Saturday.
A relaxation of the permanent ban policy was lauded by Musk, who made a surprise statement last week that he wanted to buy Twitter for $44 billion after initially agreeing to do so in April but then tried to back out of the deal, provoking a noisy legal dispute.
On Friday, the Delaware judge overseeing the case, which was due to go to trial on October 17, agreed to suspend the legal action until November to give both sides more time to reach a resolution. It is not yet clear if and when the sale of Twitter will take place.
Musk, who describes himself as a “free speech absolutist,” has previously said that if he takes over the platform, he will relax Twitter’s moderation rules and move from permanent bans to suspensions.
He also suggested reducing the visibility of offensive content in users’ feeds or allowing them more choice about what they see. “I think being able to change the content you see from ‘warm’ to ‘hot’ is the way to go,” he wrote on Twitter last week.
A Twitter spokesperson said the company is “always looking at the rules that govern our service and the tools and resources that can encourage healthy conversations.”
According to its website, San Francisco-based Twitter issues permanent suspensions to users who violate its rules “in a particularly egregious way” or “repeatedly violated them, even after receiving our notifications.”
Twitter’s policies do not allow users to share violent threats, terrorism, harassment and hate speech, for example. For areas like sharing misinformation about Covid, Twitter has a clear “attack” policy – whereby five breaches, or attacks, will result in a permanent ban.
In addition to bans, Twitter also issues temporary account suspensions and labels or reduces the visibility of content that violates its rules.
A move away from permanent bans would be welcomed by Republicans, many of whom have complained about censorship of conservative voices on social media — claims the platforms deny. On the other hand, many left-wing politicians and human rights activists have called on platforms to clamp down more firmly on the worst offenders.
Twitter is an exception in its treatment of Trump. Rival Meta has said it will lift its ban on Trump starting in January if and when the risk of violence subsides, while YouTube made a similar statement.
In May, Musk told the Financial Times he would reverse Trump’s ban, adding that he had the backing of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.