NEW YORK — Twitter’s CEO told Senate Republicans Wednesday that tweets denying the Holocaust were not forbidden, though a spokesperson for the social media juggernaut said posts may still be removed.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Wednesday was grilled for several hours in the Senate over his platform’s policies regarding hate speech and misinformation, including posts from Iran’s supreme leader that have questioned the genocide in addition to calling for Israel annihilation.
Aggressively questioning Dorsey during a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner demanded the Twitter CEO explain why the site had been flagging or deleting tweets from US President Donald Trump while leaving Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s posts untouched.
Gardner specifically asked Dorsey: “If somebody denied the Holocaust happened, it’s not misinformation?”
“It’s misleading information,” Dorsey responded. “But we don’t have a policy against that type of misleading information.”
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) October 28, 2020
“We have a policy against misinformation in three categories, which are manipulated media, public health, specifically COVID, and civic integrity, election interference and voter suppression. We do not have a policy or enforcement for any other types of misleading information that you’re mentioning,” Dorsey added.
Dorsey’s answer appeared to contradict an announcement earlier this month that Twitter would ban content that denies the Holocaust — miming a decision made days earlier by Facebook.
Asked to clarify the matter, a spokesperson for Twitter issued a statement to The Times of Israel, saying that the company “strongly condemn anti-Semitism, and hateful conduct has absolutely no place on our service.”
“Our Hateful Conduct Policy prohibits a wide range of behavior, including making references to violent events or types of violence where protected categories were the primary victims, or attempts to deny or diminish such events,” the statement continued. “We also have a robust Glorification of Violence Policy in place and take action against content that glorifies or praises historical acts of violence and genocide, including the Holocaust.”
While the spokesperson declined to comment further, the statement appeared to suggest that while Twitter does not include Holocaust denial in its misinformation policy, such posts would have grounds for removal under its “hateful conduct” and “glorification of violence” policies.
Dissatisfied with the answers given by Dorsey, Gardner said at the hearing, “it’s strange to me that you’ve flagged the tweets from the President but haven’t hidden the Ayatollah’s tweets on Holocaust denial or calls to wipe Israel off the map.”
He then cited tweets from the supreme leader, which questioned the Holocaust and asked why those weren’t grounds for being flagged or removed by Twitter.
Gardner later pointed to a 2014 post from Khamenei in which the latter wrote, “#Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it’s uncertain how it has happened.” The tweet remains up on the site.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) October 28, 2020
Gardner didn’t need to dig so far into the past. While the hearing was still unfolding, Khamenei again referenced Holocaust denial while protesting France’s defense of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. “Why is it a crime to raise doubts about the Holocaust? Why should anyone who writes about such doubts be imprisoned while insulting the Prophet (pbuh) is allowed?” Khamenei asked.
During the hearing, Dorsey defended his company’s policy with regards to Khamenei, saying Twitter has flagged some of his tweets.
“We believe it’s important for everyone to hear from global leaders, and we have policies around world leaders,” he added. “We want to make sure we are respecting their right to speak and to publish what they need.”
Further pressed by Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi as to why calling for Israel’s removal did not violate policies barring calls for violence, Dorsey said Twitter differentiates between calls made by a leader to harm their own people from calls to harm another people.
“Speech against our own people, or our country’s own citizens, we believe is different and can cause more immediate harm,” he said.
Gardner’s questions came during a hearing on social media content moderation in the Senate Commerce Committee. The hearing was convened after social media platforms, including Twitter, limited or blocked the spread of an article reporting unsubstantiated corruption allegations about Joe Biden and his family. Twitter has also hidden or flagged previous posts by President Donald Trump for contravening its guidelines.
Twitter’s approach to Khamenei’s tweets, particularly those that call for the elimination of Israel, was also questioned earlier this year in a hearing in the Israeli Knesset. A Twitter official said those tweets did not violate company guidelines.
“We have an approach toward leaders that says that direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on military-economic issues are generally not in violation of our rules,” said Ylwa Pettersson, Twitter’s policy head for Israel and Nordic countries.