I'm not convinced that Twitter's moving in exactly the right direction with this.
Twitter has always taken something of an idealistic approach to its product, looking to utilize 'the wisdom of the crowd', which it sees itself as something of a funnel for, in order to ensure that it meets audience demands. But the truth is, it can't, at least not in an all-inclusive way. There are always going to be disagreements about what should happen, what's acceptable - what's considered offensive or concerning to one person will be relatively fine to another, as is the way of the broader human experience.
But Twitter would like to think that we can all work together, and collaborate to make the world - or at least Twitter - a better place.
But can we?
This came to mind when I read about Twitter's latest initiative. As part of the platform's work to create a new policy around dehumanizing speech, Twitter's calling on users to have their say on its proposed dehumanization guidelines, in order to give users a means to contribute.
As explained by Twitter:
"The Twitter Rules apply to everyone who uses Twitter. In the past, we’ve created our rules with a rigorous policy development process; it involves in-depth research and partnership with the members of our Trust and Safety Council and other experts to ensure these policies best serve every person on the service. Now, we’re trying something new by asking everyone for feedback on a policy before it’s part of the Twitter Rules."
It makes sense - consult the community using the platform to develop more inclusive rules in its governance. But as noted, it may also prove problematic.
In this instance, Twitter has provided what it currently defines as dehumanization, and has given users 30 days to provide feedback via a form which asks:
- How would you rate the clarity of the dehumanization policy provided?
- How can the dehumanization policy be improved, if at all? (280 character max)
- Are there examples of speech that contributes to a healthy conversation, but may violate this policy? If so, please provide examples. (280 character max)
- Is there any additional feedback you’d like to provide about the policy? (280 character max)
- What is your age?
- What is your gender?
- In what country are you currently located?
- What is your Twitter username? (Optional)
That definitely covers a key audience qualm in the development of social media platform policies, in that users - particularly those who consider themselves 'power-users', whatever that means - often feel that they should have a say, that their voices and opinions matter on such issues, and they should be consulted, in some form, in the development process. This new process provides that - but then, what happens if those people are given an opportunity to provide input and that input is ultimately ignored?
Will this be seen as a token move designed to placate such concerns, or will Twitter come out with actual stats on audience responses, then formulate policy as a result?
I'm willing to bet they won't, because if user groups cotton onto the fact that they can influence Twitter policy by bombarding such processes, that won't provide the optimal outcome. Which means Twitter will likely have to go it alone anyway. Which means many of these responses will be ignored.
Ideally, Twitter will be able o get some constructive, persuasive feedback to help formulate policy, but at the same time, Twitter may simply be better served by consulting recognized experts in each field and developing rules around their advice, in alignment with platform needs.
Basically, Twitter's idealistic approach - not just in this case, but in general - is exactly that, idealistic. It would be great if we could work together and develop more inclusive, responsive policies, it would be heartening to see online communities band as one behind initiatives based on mature, thoughtful feedback. But that is very difficult to do.
As noted, Twitter has taken this approach in many aspects - I would argue that Twitter's very business model from the beginning has been somewhat reliant on idealism, on the fact that Twitter was growing, and as such, would continue to grow and all would be happy. But when the platform's growth slowed, then stopped, Twitter didn't seem to have any answers - and while they have been gradually improving, it's been through a series of tough lessons learned, highlighting that, in fact, optimism is not a strategy,
In this case, Twitter does appear to be taking a good approach, in asking its audience to participate, but the end result could be more damaging when they not only don't implement what people are asking for, but they're also unable to offer any transparency on such feedback loops, for fear of enabling activist groups to influence policy.
Idealistically, this is great, this will work, we'll all pull together. Realistically, probably not.
You can provide your thoughts on Twitter's updated policy on dehumanizing speech here.