Twitter's new head of Trust and Safety doubles down on Andy Ngo ban, says screenshots of Antifa violent threats leads to 'amplification'

Reporting on threats is not an amplification of those threats. The exposure of the threat nullifies that threat.

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY

Twitter's new head of Trust and Safety has implemented a policy without notice that makes journalism on domestic terrorism and threats of violence near impossible on the platform. After Andy Ngo was locked out of Twitter and had multiple posts related to Antifa threats removed, Ella Irwin shared that the policy of Twitter is that screenshots of tweets calling for violence cannot be shared on the platform as part of a journalistic undertaking because reporting on the threats made in those tweets is akin to making the threats one's self.

"The problem," Irwin wrote, "with screenshots of violating tweets being posted is that even if we suspend the source the screenshots of the threats being posted by other users stay up unless we take action on those too. That’s what contributes to the incitement continuing to get amplified." 

This while former Twitter execs were both defending and apologizing for their past practices of censorship and suppression on the platform before the House Oversight Committee. Previous practices, however, seem remarkably similar to present practices. It's clear Irwin is trying to solve problems, but willy-nilly policy changes without considering the harm done to journalistic practices will spell irrelevancy for breaking news through Twitter.

Irwin would rather that users who see threats of violence on Twitter not report on those threats, but report to Twitter about those threats, so that Twitter can remove them. She wrote: "We want users to report tweets that incite violence through our reporting flow so we can remove them. You can post redacted versions of the tweets but posting the threat in full, without redaction just amplifies the incitement further and impacts our ability to prevent harm."

Irwin made the comments in response to complaints about Ngo's account being locked. Ngo, who is well known for reporting on Antifa threats in his hometown of Portland, across the US, and internationally, had posted screenshots of Antifa accounts calling for violence at a Turning Point USA event at the University of Oregon, in addition to other violent extremist Antifa posts. 

For Irwin, it is more important that Twitter know that the platform is being used to spread threats of violence and is able to squash that on the platform than it is for the public, law enforcement, or the potential targets of that violence to be aware of the threats.

She states that the screenshots can be posted with the threats redacted, but the specificity of the threats is exactly what is being reported on by Ngo. Leaving those threats vague allows either the perpetrator of those threats to downplay it, for the public to downplay it, or for any number of misunderstandings to ensue.

In defending the new policy against naysayers in the world of journalism who say this is obstructionist and antithetical to a free press, Irwin said that the offending material can simply be removed from the screenshot, though it's unclear what that would look like in practice when threats of violence can be veiled.

She wrote: "You can show primary sources and show most of the original tweet. We just ask that the threat be redacted from copies/screenshots posted so it is not spread further." To her credit, she asked for advice as to how better to undertake this censorious practice. "Curious if you have a suggestion on a different approach that would prevent amplifying the threats further?"

However, reporting on threats is not an amplification of those threats. The exposure of the threat nullifies that threat. Covering it up, pretending it doesn't exist, or censoring it gives the threat more power. When threats are exposed, those who are threatened can take action, such as reporting to the police, changing their plans, or being prepared to defend themselves against bad actors.

Reports on the existence of threats are nothing without the evidence of those threats. Twitter's division of Trust and Safety, in disallowing the reporting of threats of violence, is not making Twitter a safer place. Instead, it protects the threat-makers from visibility.

Irwin's assertion that reporting on threats of domestic terrorism is somehow an amplification, or even an endorsement of those threats, has a Kafka-esque feel about it. A reporter seeking to expose Antifa or other domestic terrorists could very easily be cowed from doing so under these new policies since they risk their account being locked simply for exposing the truth.

Perhaps Irwin always believes that every retweet is an endorsement, despite the obvious indications otherwise.

There are mental gymnastics Irwin is undertaking to support her position, and they have Twitter at the center as the ultimate arbiter of truth, trust, and safety. That is not Twitter's role. 


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