The fact that Twitter has a white supremacist problem has long been one of the more pointed criticisms of the social media giant—to the point where “ban Nazis” has become something of a shorthand joke(...ish) for how to fix everything wrong with the platform.
But despite the public outcry over the proliferation of racist, white nationalist, and yes, overtly Nazi users on the site, Twitter has done a piss poor job actually doing anything about it. And on Thursday, the public got a glimpse at just one reason why.
In a Thursday exposé from Vice’s Motherboard, journalists Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler reported that there has been serious concern among some Twitter staffers that by targeting right-wing hate speech—similar to how the site has already cracked down on international terrorist chatter—the platform could end up banning Republican elected officials, too. Hmmmmmm.
Citing a recent all-hands meeting for Twitter staff, the site reports the question of why the site hasn’t gone after white nationalists was raised, only to be roundly shot down by a company executive:
Per Motherboard (emphasis mine):
With every sort of content filter, there is a tradeoff, [the Twitter executive] explained. When a platform aggressively enforces against ISIS content, for instance, it can also flag innocent accounts as well, such as Arabic language broadcasters. Society, in general, accepts the benefit of banning ISIS for inconveniencing some others, he said.
In separate discussions verified by Motherboard, that employee [who posed the initial question] said Twitter hasn’t taken the same aggressive approach to white supremacist content because the collateral accounts that are impacted can, in some instances, be Republican politicians.
The employee argued that, on a technical level, content from Republican politicians could get swept up by algorithms aggressively removing white supremacist material. Banning politicians wouldn’t be accepted by society as a trade-off for flagging all of the white supremacist propaganda, he argued.
For its part, Twitter pushed back against its employee’s assessment, telling Motherboard that it “is not [an] accurate characterization of our policies or enforcement—on any level.”
But putting aside Twitter’s obvious ass-covering, let’s get to the real problem here: There is a critical mass of GOP politicians who are spout content virtually indistinguishable than what’s coming from white supremacists.
This is, of course, a major problem for Twitter, but more crucially, for, well, everyone. (Except white supremacists, who can continue to tweet extremely racist things, knowing they’ve got an umbrella of Republican lawmakers like Iowa Rep. Steve King covering them.) And while it might seem to those who spend an upsettingly disproportionate time online that Twitter is the end all be all, the fact remains that while banning Nazis from the site is unquestionably good, its effects would nevertheless be mitigated by the sheer volume of real-world Republicans who sound eerily similar. Put more simply: Twitter might have a white supremacist problem, but so does American politics.
For what it’s worth, Motherboard’s report comes just two days after Twitter’s right-leaning CEO Jack Dorsey met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. There, rather than devoting the bulk of their conversation to tackling the proliferation of online hate speech, the president reportedly spent a “significant portion” of their time together complaining about losing followers.