Wartime Twitter

Militarised Twitter

The recent Gaza conflict signified a shift in how battles are fought and publicised. Israel announced its assault on Hamas targets on Twitter and much of the ensuing conflict was documented in a flurry of tweets published by the Israeli Defence Force, a variety of Israeli spokespeople and Hamas.

This shift to Twitter as a PR tool for governments engaged in conflicts and politics in general is an interesting one. For one thing, it means that Twitter is no longer simply a social network for brands and users talking about what they had for breakfast. This isn’t really new. Twitter featured prominently in the Arab Spring uprisings earlier this year and has been activists’ preferred tool for a little longer than that because Twitter allows pseudonyms; tweets are easily shared and there are a variety of ways to access the service that circumvent some efforts to block Twitter (although I suspect these options are becoming increasingly limited as Twitter restricts external apps’ access to its data and APIs).

I found myself wondering whether this use is sanctioned by Twitter and took a look at Twitter’s governing documents.

What do Twitter’s terms and conditions say?

Twitter’s Rules establish guidelines for acceptable (and unacceptable) uses of the service –

In order to provide the Twitter service and the ability to communicate and stay connected with others, there are some limitations on the type of content that can be published with Twitter. These limitations comply with legal requirements and make Twitter a better experience for all. We may need to change these rules from time to time and reserve the right to do so. Please check back here to see the latest.

One of the rules is somewhat on point here:

Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.

Both the IDF and the Hamas tweets I quoted above would seem to fall within this category so the question is what Twitter could, hypothetically, do. For starters, the Rules give some indication of Twitter’s official approach to tweets, generally –

Our goal is to provide a service that allows you to discover and receive content from sources that interest you as well as to share your content with others. We respect the ownership of the content that users share and each user is responsible for the content he or she provides. Because of these principles, we do not actively monitor user’s content and will not censor user content, except in limited circumstances described below.

Twitter’s Terms of Service set out some of the actions Twitter may take for violations of its terms and conditions:

Please review the Twitter Rules (which are part of these Terms) to better understand what is prohibited on the Service. We reserve the right at all times (but will not have an obligation) to remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, to suspend or terminate users, and to reclaim usernames without liability to you. We also reserve the right to access, read, preserve, and disclose any information as we reasonably believe is necessary to (i) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request, (ii) enforce the Terms, including investigation of potential violations hereof, (iii) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues, (iv) respond to user support requests, or (v) protect the rights, property or safety of Twitter, its users and the public.

Whether Twitter would take steps to enforce its terms and conditions as more governments and political entities start using it to promote their points of view is possibly more of a policy decision. Twitter is becoming more and more of an information utility and a pretty effective news service and, besides risks to its safe harbours, adopting a more active moderation role would likely be detrimental. Instead, Twitter will likely apply some of its practices for complying with legal and compliance restrictions while striving for a balance between compliance and preserving Twitter as a platform for activists and ideas.

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