Twitter this week has taken drastic steps to reduce the amount of abuse and harassment on its service by banning the accounts of several high-profile leaders of the white nationalist alt-right movement, including Richard Spencer and Pax Dickinson.
These users have been known for spouting tweets and opinions against people of color. Spencer, for example, has said he is for the removal of non-whites from the U.S. while Dickinson has previously used his account while working for Business Insider and Glimpse Labs to voice opinions critical and abusive toward members of the LGBT community, women and others. Aside from Spencer and Dickinson, Twitter has also banned users such as Paul Town, Ricky Vaughn and John Rivers, according to reports.
The move to purge these high-profile alt-right users comes shortly after the release of a new mute tool by Twitter.
That feature makes it possible for users to go and proactively ban specific phrases or keywords that they do not want showing up in their notifications. It is part of an effort by CEO Jack Dorsey to curb the amount of abuse and harassment on his service. However, members of the tech diversity community -- who are often the victims of the most severe abuse on Twitter -- said it is a feature that has come too many years too late.
At a larger scale, Twitter's bans are part of a larger wave of strategic changes happening at companies across Silicon Valley in reaction to the 2016 election results.
Google and Facebook both announced measures earlier this week that are intended to prevent websites that publish false information from using their advertising networks. The intended effect is to discourage websites that rely on advertising revenue from publishing misleading and hoax information. These announcements come after many companies in Silicon Valley have fallen under a barrage of criticism from users who say the companies created systems where fake news stories spread more easily than factual reports.
Twitter, meanwhile, has been criticized for not doing enough to protect its users from so-called trolls. This is a problem that has been plaguing the company for years, continually driving high-profile users off of the site. But these harassment issues have come under particular scrutiny in 2016 amidst racial tension through the U.S. and after the ailing Twitter was unable to secure acquisition bids from major media companies due to concerns with the quality of the community on Twitter.
This is not the first time that Twitter has taken steps of this sort to reduce hateful chatter. Earlier this year, comedian Leslie Jones was driven off of the service by users who were comparing her to a gorilla. Twitter reacted to the incident by banning Milo Yiannopoulos, another member of the movement and the technology editor of Breitbart, a far-right news site. The ban was not without controversy and drew criticism in some quarters as a curtailment of free speech, a principle Twitter has mostly celebrated.
While groups that support diversity are glad to see Twitter finally address their concerns, the groups also say that Twitter is simply irresponsibly late in acting.
"Instead of acknowledging the role Twitter played in enabling the alt-right, racist, anti-immigrant, and Islamophobic rhetoric -- which our president-elect depended on to stoke his rise -- they have instead chosen to erase the accounts and move on," said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, an online racial justice organization.
"We're glad that Twitter is finally taking action after several meetings with us and other racial justice organizations, but this response is simply too little and far too late," Robinson said.