What if someone wants to punch Sean Hannity in the face? Will that user be suspended by Twitter?
That’s what the conservative commentator wanted to know when he had Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on his radio show on Wednesday afternoon to discuss, among other things, shadow banning and the platform’s decision not to exile conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
The answer, it turns out, is maybe.
Dorsey told Hannity “context” matters when it comes to deciding which users are punished for violating its rules — something the exec said is “extremely hard for an algorithm and certainly hard for a human to do.”
This came after Dorsey said “any sort of violent speech or encouragement towards violence, harassment is directly against our terms of service and we take immediate action on it.”
The exchange underscored the difficult position tech giants find themselves in while trying to police their massive audiences. Facebook, Spotify, and Apple kicked Jones off its platforms earlier in the week, pointing to the controversial shock jock’s “hate speech” as grounds for banishment. But Twitter didn’t follow its Silicon Valley neighbors. Dorsey said it’s because Jones hasn’t violated Twitter’s Rules, which suspends users for “abusive behavior.”
The decision has put Twitter and its chief exec in the crosshairs of many liberals that believe Jones shouldn’t be allowed to broadcast his views — among them, bogusly claiming the Sandy Hook school shooting was a “hoax” — on the platform. At the same time, Twitter has been blasted by conservatives for its seemingly arbitrary enforcement of its rules.
Sabo, a right-wing Los Angeles street artist, complained to TheWrap after his account was booted earlier this year. And recently, Twitter has pushed back against claims it shadow bans conservative voices.
Dorsey addressed the shadow ban controversy on Hannity’s show.
“We do not shadow ban according to political ideology or viewpoint or content. Period,” said Dorsey. He did say, though, that “bad faith actors who intend to manipulate, distract, [or] divide a conversation” will see their ranking impacted in search and feed results.
If you follow someone, you will see them in your feed. But you might have to scroll a bit, said Dorsey, since Twitter ranks tweets based on timeliness and relevance. Dorsey also clarified something that had been lost in Twitter’s arcane policies, saying that people’s rankings aren’t “scarlet permanent letters.” Users can move up the rankings as their behavior changes on the app.
The conversation ultimately provided little insight on how Twitter and other major tech companies will manage polarizing voices moving forward.