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Twitter under more pressure to ban white supremacists

Civil rights activists rally outside Twitter's headquarters.

Civil rights activists gathered outside Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco on Tuesday to urge the company to ban white supremacists from the platform.  
James Martin/CNET

Standing behind paper file boxes filled with petitions, about a dozen civil rights activists gathered outside Twitter's headquarters on Tuesday to deliver a loud yet familiar message to the social media company: Ban white supremacists from the platform. 

"Do not give these folks a megaphone to spew their hate and violence. Their speech online impacts our communities in real life. We suffer real consequences when Nazis and white nationalists are able to rally their people online," Erin Shields, the national field organizer for internet rights at MediaJustice, said during the rally in San Francisco. Shields, who was speaking through a megaphone, was joined by other advocacy groups including Color of Change and Free Press.

Erin Shields, the national field organizer for internet rights at MediaJustice, speaks through a megaphone during a rally outside Twitter's headquarters.

Erin Shields, the national field organizer for internet rights at MediaJustice, speaks through a megaphone during a rally outside Twitter's headquarters. 

James Martin/CNET

The protesters held up signs that showed tweets bearing yellow warning labels that read "White supremacist content may incite violence" and "Toxic content, may cause harm." The protestors say they want to #StopRacistTwitter.

Twitter already has a policy that bars hateful conduct, including promoting violence or directly attacking people based on race, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics. But civil rights groups say it doesn't go far enough. Calls to boot white supremacists from the platform have intensified this year in the wake of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Christchurch, New Zealand. In March, Facebook said it was banning white nationalist and white separatist content from its platform, putting pressure on Twitter to do the same. 

Activists delivered petitions, signed by 110,000 people, that urged Twitter to ban white supremacists. The petition was created by Change the Terms, a coalition of more than 55 civil rights organizations. Free Press also published a report Tuesday, outlining the changes advocates want Twitter to make to its policies. Twitter's definition of inciting violence is too narrow and the company's policy still allows for hateful conduct because it focuses on "direct" attacks, the report said. Twitter should also "expand its ban against dehumanizing language to all protected classes of people."

A Twitter spokeswoman pointed to the company's policies against hateful conduct, terrorist organizations and violent extremist groups. "Because of these rules, we've permanently suspended the accounts of 186 groups, half of which advocate violence against civilians alongside some form of extremist white supremacist ideology," she said.

Jessica González, co-founder of Change the Terms, said in an interview that Twitter's policies against hateful conduct just aren't working well enough. Sites such as 8chan that are filled with white supremacists still have a Twitter account, she said. 

"Having a policy against white supremacists on the platform is important," González said. "It sets an expectation and rules of engagement about what's allowed and what's not allowed there." Twitter hasn't made the same commitment as Facebook to ban white supremacists, she said, and if Twitter doesn't follow suit, the activists will be back.