NEW YORK — Twitter is enacting new policies around hate, abuse and advertisements, but having rules is only half the battle – the easy half.
The bigger problem is enforcement, and there the company has had some high-profile bungles recently. That includes its much-criticized suspension of actress Rose McGowan while she was speaking out against Harvey Weinstein, and the company’s ban, later reversed , of an ad from a Republican Senate candidate that mentioned the “the sale of baby body parts.”
Such twists and turns suggest Twitter doesn’t always communicate the intent of its rules to the people enforcing them. In McGowan’s case, her suspension resulted from a straightforward application of Twitter privacy rules to a tweet that broadcast a private phone number. But the moderators who enforced the rules didn’t seem to take into account McGowan’s central role in speaking out against Weinstein. A widespread outcry followed and the company reinstated her account.
Twitter has users “coming from lots of different parts of the world with different kinds of context,” said Emma Llanso, director of the Center for Democracy &Technology’s Free Expression Project. “And it’s probably impossible to have just one set of rules that works all the time. There will definitely be mistakes.”
The company said it will “be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.”
To make things more clear, Twitter will give users suspected of abuse more information after they appeal a suspension verdict. Appeals themselves aren’t new, but now the company says it will provide “detailed descriptions” of rule violations as part of the process.
The company said last week it will also email users when they are suspected of account violations and next month will post details about the different factors it weighs when enforcing its rules.
This week, Twitter also unveiled new rules governing advertisements, especially political paid messages that have come under scrutiny during investigations into alleged Russian interference with the U.S. presidential election. The rules require election-related ads by and about candidates to disclose who is paying for them and how they are targeted.
Other advertisers will also have to provide more information, including how long ads have been running and information for users who are being targeted. But the stricter policy, which includes requiring the organization funding the ads to disclose its identity, along with how much money it is spending on each ad campaign, only applies to so-called “electioneering” ads This is a clearly defined category that includes only those ads that refer to a candidate or a party associated with a candidate for an elected office.