In a blow to Twitter’s credibility, the company retracted its previous explanation for why it did not remove tweets that included graphic anti-Muslim videos that were retweeted this week by President Donald Trump. “We mistakenly pointed to the wrong reason we didn’t take action on the videos from earlier this week,” CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted on Friday. “We’re still looking critically at all of our current policies, and appreciate all the feedback.”
This marked a stark reversal from Thursday, when an unnamed spokesman offered this explanation: "To help ensure people have an opportunity to see every side of an issue, there may be the rare occasion when we allow controversial content or behavior which may otherwise violate our rules to remain on our service because we believe there is a legitimate public interest in its availability."
The gotta-hear-all-sides explanation drew complaints from critics who said the president had used Twitter to incite violence. On Friday, Twitter said that explanation was no longer operative. A two-part tweet from Twitter’s trust and safety team said that the videos “are permitted on Twitter based on our current media policy.”
To clarify: these videos are not being kept up because they are newsworthy or for public interest. Rather, these videos are permitted on Twitter based on our current media policy. https://t.co/RqEQy3skgc— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) December 1, 2017
So, the videos were permitted to be on the platform because ... the videos are permitted to be on the platform. Not because they offer “an opportunity to see every side of an issue.”
The move recasts a decision that was highly editorial in nature as one that was supported by policy. Unfortunately, Twitter policies change regularly and are poorly understood and articulated, particularly by the people who make and enforce them.
Twitter’s regular missteps, half-steps, and apologies around its policies have become a running joke this year. But even in a rough year for policymaking on the platform, this retraction stands out for the way that it undermines the credibility of Twitter’s communications team and casts doubt on the company’s future announcements about what is and is not allowed on the platform.