I was horrified to discover yesterday that BuzzFeed’s Twitter account is apparently in violation of Twitter terms of service. After all, here they are tweeting out a picture of people in KKK hoods, in a tweet that explicitly notes Twitter bans tweeting “symbols historically associated with hate groups.”
Twitter is allowing this altered photo comparing women members of Congress who wore white to the State of the Union to the KKK to circulate on its platform despite its own policy that doesn’t allow “symbols historically associated with hate groups.”https://t.co/60aFpx4OJlpic.twitter.com/Z4RVBsFyKa
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) February 6, 2019
BuzzFeed’s gripe here is that Twitter conservatives like Ann Coulter and Katrina Pierson spread an image of House Democrats dressed in all white at the State of the Union, photoshopped to make them appear as Klansmen. This strikes me as the sort of obnoxious surface-level nonsense that passes for “commentary” on social media, the stuff most people roll their eyes at and then go about their day.
But BuzzFeed seems determined to argue that actually, this is against the rules and must be stopped. The subhead complains “Twitter’s own policy states that it doesn’t allow ‘symbols historically associated with hate groups,'” while the body notes “Twitter’s hateful imagery policy doesn’t allow ‘symbols historically associated with hate groups.'”
The fact that BuzzFeed’s social media team didn’t blink at tweeting out an image that is supposedly ban-worthy makes the entire piece self-defeating. It’s an admission that tweeting hateful imagery on its own is not against the rules, and intent obviously matter. Sure enough, here is the full Terms of Service, including the parts BuzzFeed omitted (emphasis mine):
We consider hateful imagery to be logos, symbols, or images whose purpose is to promote hostility and malice against others based on their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or ethnicity/national origin. Some examples of hateful imagery include, but are not limited to:
- symbols historically associated with hate groups, e.g., the Nazi swastika;
- images depicting others as less than human, or altered to include hateful symbols, e.g., altering images of individuals to include animalistic features; or
- images altered to include hateful symbols or references to a mass murder that targeted a protected category, e.g., manipulating images of individuals to include yellow Star of David badges, in reference to the Holocaust.
It’s pretty clear “hateful imagery” is only banned when the purpose is to promote said hate, which the photoshopped Klan picture didn’t. To the contrary, the punchline is that Democrats are bad, and they therefore are like the Klan, who are also bad. Ha ha ha.
The eternal question whenever we see this kind of error is whether the reporter is deceitful or merely incompetent. As a rule and out of an abundance of kindness, I usually suggest incompetence. But I find it reeeeally difficult to believe that BuzzFeed’s reporter could have looked up Twitter policy, quoted from it, but missed the portion a paragraph earlier that torpedoed her argument. That to me suggests active deception.
The other complaint BuzzFeed levels is the image is “altered,” and it fits a pattern where “Fake images and other disinformation about Democrats Ilhan Omar, Nancy Pelosi, and Stacey Abrams was circulated on social media during the midterm elections. Earlier this year, doctored video and a fake photo falsely claiming to be a nude image of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went viral.”
The implication here is BuzzFeed seriously believes there’s a risk people will see an image of dozens of Klansmen casually sitting in the House of Representatives and think it actually happened. It’s probably true that even a ridiculous photoshop will fool at least some people. But it’s unfair to commentators to knock them for obvious satire just because some people are idiots. I’d hazard that 99% of people got the “joke” here, and BuzzFeed knows it.
That a reporter saw a dumb photoshop in the fever swamps and got so hot and bothered she demanded answers from Twitter and wrote an entire piece about it is its own form of bias. A simple Twitter image search for “trump hitler” and come up with plenty of examples of bad photoshops and images to make Trump look like Hitler. This is unfortunately a common rhetorical tool targeting Democrats and Republicans alike, made worse by the unsustainable level of Boomers on Twitter. Why is this is the only instance BuzzFeed threw a fit over?
If BuzzFeed wanted to run an op-ed arguing that Twitter should ban this sort of image, eh, I’d at least hear them out. Instead they ran straight news story arguing that it’s already against the rules and Twitter was shirking their duties. That’s just false, and BuzzFeed is deceiving its readers by keeping the story up un-corrected.