Twitter announced on Tuesday that they plan to modify their content rules again in an attempt to appease critics who feel the social media giant is not doing enough to stop speech they consider hateful. The new rule specifically targets “dehumanizing” speech toward religious groups.
One notorious user of such speech found himself briefly locked out of his account as a direct result. But not for long.
Louis Farrakhan, the notoriously anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam, tweeted last October, “I’m not an anti-Semite. I’m anti-Termite.” He was immediately reported by multitudes of stunned Twitter users who saw quite clearly that Farrakhan proclaimed to more than 300,000 followers that he considered Jews to be termites.
That post was hardly alone in anti-Semitic rhetoric on Farrakhan’s account. The 86-year-old NOI leader has been preaching against Jews for years. Here are just a few examples.
What gave me the strength to withstand the government of America, the Jewish powers of America, that were on my back for over 30 years? pic.twitter.com/gvcIimHF9l
— MINISTER FARRAKHAN (@LouisFarrakhan) September 28, 2017
Israel has no permanent home in our Holy Land. The Holy Land does not belong to a White Arab or a White Jew. You are settlers on our land. pic.twitter.com/gWBdpljRKo
— MINISTER FARRAKHAN (@LouisFarrakhan) May 18, 2017
Mr. Trump: You say, "America first." America is never first. Israel is always first. Ask any Jew, even your son-in-law. pic.twitter.com/f96M9lXl9g
— MINISTER FARRAKHAN (@LouisFarrakhan) March 23, 2017
— MINISTER FARRAKHAN (@LouisFarrakhan) February 8, 2016
At the time of the “termite” post last year, many people reported that comment and several others as an attack on a protected group. Twitter informed them all that they found no violation in Farrakhan’s incendiary tweets.
On Tuesday, however, Twitter suspended Farrakhan’s account almost immediately after releasing a description of their new rule about “dehumanizing” language. They described their policy change in a blog post as:
We create our rules to keep people safe on Twitter, and they continuously evolve to reflect the realities of the world we operate within. Our primary focus is on addressing the risks of offline harm, and research shows that dehumanizing language increases that risk. As a result, after months of conversations and feedback from the public, external experts and our own teams, we’re expanding our rules against hateful conduct to include language that dehumanizes others based on religion. Starting today, we will require Tweets like these to be removed from Twitter when they’re reported to us.
Many users immediately thought of Farrakhan when the new rule became known on Tuesday. The comparison of Jews to termites and constant disparaging of Israel and all Jewish people had mystically avoided the ax of Twitter’s content moderators for years. It seemed his time had come.
I honestly never thought this would happen. pic.twitter.com/fyqw9Uxq7S
— benjamin kerstein (@benj_kerstein) July 9, 2019
While Twitter has always been somewhat vague about how and when they choose to enforce their rules—some conservative writers have even lost their privileges for seemingly no reason—it looked like Farrakhan’s suspension marked a victory in the fight against online anti-Semitism. Perhaps the dehumanizing content he had freely published and shared for years was finally offending the right people.
However, after only a few hours, Farrakhan’s account was restored with a minor adjustment. The notorious “termite” post was no longer in his timeline, although all other tweets remained with no restriction. Years of anti-Semitic epithets and clips of preaching against Jewish people seemed to continue not to violate Twitter’s content rules.
It seems that “dehumanizing” is yet another word that Twitter moderators will struggle to define.