Twitter Cracking Down on Promoting Violence—With a Major Exception

Twitter has announced new policies on hate speech and violence that will judge users by their behavior off as well as on the social media site. The rules go into effect December 18.

"You may not make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people. This includes, but is not limited to, threatening or promoting terrorism," the re-written section reads. "You also may not affiliate with organizations that—whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform—use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes."

The rule is apparently aimed at neo-Nazis and other racists. Government-affiliated accounts will presumably remain safe, even though those rewritten rules describe a lot of them as well.

Governments, at their root, promote violence against civilians. Not just autocratic regimes that rely on brute force to maintain their power: all governments. They may try make violence a last resort, but it's always lurking behind the law. So far this year, for example, 874 people have been shot and killed by police. Twitter is highly unlikely to deverify or suspend any accounts operated by the various police departments and police associations that defend these killings.

Limiting its policy to "unlawful" or "unofficial" violence would explicitly exclude government accounts, but too often respectable society insists on excluding government and government actions from the accepted meaning of violence altogether. Our collective blind spot to the fact that governments are organizations that "use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes" has real-life consequences beyond social media policies.

Earlier this month, the first case to be taken up by New York's attorney general of a police officer charged with unlawfully killing someone came to an end—with an acquittal. This should've been an easy case: It involved an off-duty police officer who killed another man during a road rage incident, and who provided a statement on what happened that was contradicted by video evidence. But the jury still let him off. Apparently, uch of the general population defers to the police even in a case like this.

That deference is sustained by this inability to accept that government is violent. So long as state-sponsored violence is sanitized and excluded from the popular conception of violence, it will continue largely unabated.