Twitter accused by far-right of purge after suspending swathes of racist troll accounts

Alt-right Donald Trump supporters deleted as site attempts to crack down on bullying and hate speech

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The Independent US

Twitter has suspended a number of far-right accounts and introduced new features designed to tackle abuse online.

The accounts removed belonged to predominantly US-based users, who espouse a white supremacist ideology associated with the American alt-right movement.

The social media site has also brought in new ways for users to avoid, control, and report being targeted by bullies or hate speech online, demonstrating a renewed commitment to stamping out abuse. 

Twitter has been repeatedly criticised for failing to tackle "trolls" – online bullies who typically target women and minorities using the site – or crack down on hate speech, but during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign the site drew particular criticism for failing to stop the alt-right from using the network as a platform to disseminate white supremacist views. 

The Southern Poverty Law Centre has described the movement as: “A set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilisation.” Given this, it is unsuprising that the alt-right embraced the President-elect and gained momentum as he rose to power.

But on Tuesday, Twitter finally removed dozens of accounts belonging to far-right white nationalists.

Among those suspended was Richard Spencer, who runs an alt-right think tank and had a verified account on Twitter. Mr Spencer has said in the past that he wants blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Jews removed from the US.

Twitter also removed the account of his think tank, the National Policy Institute, and his online magazine.

“This is corporate Stalinism,” Mr Spencer told The Daily Caller News Foundation. In a YouTube video, entitled “The Knight of Long Knives”, presumably a reference to the purge of Nazi leaders in 1934 to consolidate Adolf Hitler’s power, Mr Spencer said Twitter had engaged in a coordinated effort to wipe out alt-right Twitter.

“I am alive physically but digitally speaking there has been execution squads across the alt-right,” he said. “There is a great purge going on and they are purging people based on their views.”

A spokesman for Twitter told The Independent: “The Twitter rules prohibit violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct, and multiple account abuse, and we will take action on accounts violating those policies.”

The company told USA Today they would not comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons.

Twitter has suspended alt-right accounts in the past but never so many at once.

In one of the highest-profile bans, Twitter removed the account of Milo Yiannopoulos, a technology editor at the conservative news site Breitbart in July. He had engaged in a campaign of abuse in which hundreds of anonymous Twitter accounts bombarded Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones with racist and sexist taunts. Before banning Mr Yiannopoulos, Twitter stripped him of his verified status.

Mr Spencer said he supported Mr Yiannopoulos and did not think he should have been banned from Twitter. But, he said in his YouTube video: “Milo was engaging in something that could be called harassment.

“The fact is that I, and a number of other people who have just got banned, weren’t even trolling,” he said. “I was using Twitter just like I always use Twitter, to give people some updates and maybe to comment on a news story here and there.”

On Tuesday, Twitter announced new methods of controlling, reporting, and enforcing bans on bullying and hate speech.

The company said in a statement: “What makes Twitter great is that it’s open to everyone and every opinion. We’ve seen a growing trend of people taking advantage of that openness and using Twitter to be abusive to others.

“The amount of abuse, bullying, and harassment we’ve seen across the internet has risen sharply over the past few years. These behaviours inhibit people from participating on Twitter, or anywhere. Abusive conduct removes the chance to see and share all perspectives around an issue, which we believe is critical to moving us all forward. In the worst cases, this type of conduct threatens human dignity, which we should all stand together to protect.”

The company already had a mute feature, which allowed users to silence accounts they did not want to see tweets from, but the tool will now be expanded to notifications, and will allow users to block out keywords, phrases, and even entire conversations they would rather avoid. 

The company has also made its procedure for reporting abuse more efficient, and has retrained staff. 

Twitter said: “Our hateful conduct policy prohibits specific conduct that targets people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.

“We’ve retrained all of our support teams on our policies, including special sessions on cultural and historical contextualisation of hateful conduct, and implemented an ongoing refresher programme. We’ve also improved our internal tools and systems in order to deal more effectively with this conduct when it’s reported to us. Our goal is a faster and more transparent process.”

It added: “We don’t expect these announcements to suddenly remove abusive conduct from Twitter. No single action by us would do that. Instead we commit to rapidly improving Twitter based on everything we observe and learn.”