This year, Twitter has suspended many accounts under the nebulous guise of “hateful conduct” and pre-emptively warned users that they’ll be banned from the platform if they break the rules. However, despite these actions, Twitter’s Head of Trust and Safety, Legal, and Public Policy Vijaya Gadde insists that when the company has the opportunity to “disappear” content, it doesn’t because the platform is meant to be “transparent.”
During an interview with Motherboard, Gadde and other Twitter employees framed Twitter as a platform that is reluctant to suspend users and one that often downgrades tweets rather than removing them completely.
“There are times when we could simply disappear something. We don’t do that,” Gadde said. “We downgrade things and we put them behind interstitials and we’re very clear when we’ve done that, and the reason for that, is because our platform is meant to be transparent. We need people to trust that it operates in a certain way.”
Gadde is referring to Twitter’s policy that hides and suppresses some tweets from large accounts, verified accounts, and government officials instead of removing them. On paper, this policy should, as Gadde says, reduce the amount of content that’s removed from Twitter, although it still renders the tweets behind these interstitials almost invisible.
However, in practice, Twitter selectively enforces this policy and still disappears posts from high ranking politicians rather than hiding them behind an interstitial. For example, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign account posted a video highlighting violent threats being made against him, Twitter removed the video until a mass boycott forced it to reverse the decision.
Gadde also revealed that Twitter had previously hoped to employ even more authoritarian content moderation tactics in order to control people’s behavior on the platform but that these tactics ultimately failed: “One of the mistakes we made in the early days was thinking that we could change the rules and change the behavior, and what we found as we put more aggressive rules in place, that it really wasn’t having that much of an impact.”
She added that Twitter’s “fundamental mission” is to “serve the public conversation.” According to Gadde, this means permitting “as many people in the world as possible for engaging on a public platform and it means that we need to be open to as many viewpoints as possible.”
A former Twitter employee that was interviewed also suggested that Twitter is reluctant to suspend users because “the growth team tended to have priority over everything, because those monthly active users were so crucial.”
Despite the words of Gadde and this former employee, Twitter’s actions paint a different picture. The platform has locked and suspended many accounts this year, including the popular Titania McGrath parody account and the account of leading gun statistics expert John Lott.
Other key revelations from the interview include Twitter’s content moderation “enforcement team” having a total of 1,500 people compared with Facebook’s 30,000 content reviewers and automatic and software-based solutions now flagging 40% of the Twitter content that needs to be “acted upon.”