A reporting option that allowed Twitter users to report posts that were potential violations of its Civic Integrity Policy was removed from the app in recent months as the political storm surrounding the 2020 US Presidential Election have cooled down.
Twitter’s civic integrity policy allow it to remove posts that threaten to upend the results of elections or interfere or manipulate political discourse. “You may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes,” the policy reads. The company expanded on its policy in the months leading up tho the Presidential Election last fall, and still removes content or suspends accounts that are found to be in violation of its civic integrity policy from time to time.
But the removal of the option to report Tweets that could be in violation of its policy could threaten future political discourse—particularly as politically charged conspiracy theories rage on. The company does allow users to report Tweets to be evaluated against the company’s policy in its entirety, but without a clear option on how to report Tweets that could be spreading harmful misinformation, users may be discouraged to report the posts they find suspicious.
More recently, the company suspended an account owned by Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft over repeatedly spreading misinformation about the 2020 election, including false accusations that the election was rigged and that Trump really won. MyPillow CEO and founder Mike Lindell was also suspended for promoting similar falsehoods, and even faces a major lawsuit against Dominion Voting Systems for promoting false claims against the company.
“Twitter’s civic integrity policy, like its other rules and guidelines, serve at least two primary purposes,” says Doug Mirell, a legal expert on Section 230 and partner at Greenberg Glusker LLP. “First, they seek to demonstrate that Twitter is a good corporate citizen. Second, and more important, they represent stop-gap measures that seek to forestall any meaningful congressional reconsideration of the blanket immunity that it and all other social media platforms have enjoyed since their inception. Particularly in the wake of the January 6th insurrection, all social media platforms that want to preserve their legal unaccountability for the messages their users post would be well advised to adopt and scrupulously enforce similar civic integrity policies,” Mirell says.
Platforms like Parler and Gab, which did not implement such policies, face heavy criticism and even deplatforming from hosting services that could become liable for their inaction. ” From a free speech perspective, it remains inequitable and ultimately unsustainable that internet platforms enjoy blanket immunity for user generated content that would result in liability exposure if published by traditional print and broadcast media. This is an issue that has and should have broad bipartisan support since there is no reason to believe that the immunity afforded by Section 230 favors or disfavors only one side of the political/ideological spectrum,” Mirell says.
Right now, users on Twitter can report Tweets for a number of reasons ranging from suspicions that the account is being used to spread spam or the account is being abusive or harmful. Users can report Tweets that they think are violating the company’s policy on upholding civic integrity through a number of paths, but not for that reason itself.
In a blog post from December, the company says it labeled “approximately 300,000 Tweets” for spreading information that was either proven false or could have been misleading, and the company recently started adding additional labels to posts that contained information that could have come from hacked materials, as not to inhibit the spread of information coming from journalists while protecting itself legally from being held accountable for spreading such materials online.