Twitter is reviewing its controversial policies around permanently banning users, potentially bringing its content moderation more in line with Elon Musk’s vision for the social media platform regardless of whether the Tesla chief becomes its owner.
The Silicon Valley company has been assessing whether there are other content moderation tools that could replace its harshest penalty for the violation of certain rules, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.
But any change is unlikely to pave the way for a return to the platform for Donald Trump, two of the people said, as removing bans for breaching of its policy against inciting violence is not under consideration. The former US president was issued a lifetime ban soon after a mob of his supporters invaded the US Capitol on January 6 last year.
Instead, staffers are looking at areas where they feel Twitter may have been disproportionately heavy handed in cutting off users from its services for lesser offences, such as around the sharing of misleading information.
The review, which began months ago and has not yet reached any conclusions, comes amid renewed focus on the policy following the temporary locking of American rapper Kanye West’s account after he posted an anti-Semitic message on Saturday.
A relaxation of the permanent bans policy has been touted by Musk, who made a surprise declaration last week that he wanted to buy Twitter for $44bn after initially agreeing to do so in April but later attempting to back out of the deal, sparking a high-profile legal dispute.
On Friday, the Delaware judge overseeing the case, which was set to go to trial on October 17, agreed to stay the legal action until November to give more time for the two sides to reach a resolution. It is still unclear if and when the Twitter sale will happen.
Musk, who describes himself as a “free speech absolutist”, has previously said that if he takes over the platform, he would relax Twitter’s moderation rules, and move away from permanent bans towards “time outs” or suspensions.
He has also suggested reducing the visibility of offensive content in users’ feeds or allowing them more choice over what they see. “I think being able to dial the content you see from ‘warm & fuzzy’ all the way to ‘bring it on mf!’ is the way to go,” he wrote on Twitter last week.
A Twitter spokesperson said the company was “always examining the rules that govern our service and the tools and features that can encourage healthy conversation”.
According to its website, San Francisco-based Twitter issues permanent suspensions to users who have violated its rules “in a particularly egregious way” or have “repeatedly violated them even after receiving notifications from us”.
Twitter’s policies do not allow users to share violent threats, terrorism, harassment and hate speech, for example. For areas such as sharing Covid misinformation, Twitter has a clear “strike” policy — whereby five violations, or strikes, will result in a permanent ban.
On top of bans, Twitter also issues temporary account suspensions, and labels or reduces the visibility of content that breaks its rules.
A move away from permanent bans would be welcomed by Republicans, many of whom have complained about censorship of conservative voices on social media platforms — allegations the platforms deny. By contrast, many leftwing politicians as well as human rights activists have called for platforms to clamp down more fiercely on the worst offenders.
Twitter is an outlier in its treatment of Trump. Rival Meta has said it will lift its ban on Trump from January if and when the risk of violence has decreased, while YouTube has made a similar statement.
In May, Musk told the Financial Times that he would reverse the ban on Trump, adding that he had the support of Twitter’s co-founder, Jack Dorsey.