Twitter has told Ars Technica that a Chinese government tweet praising China’s treatment of its Uygur ethnic minority does not violate its policy against hateful conduct.
“Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines,” the tweet says. “They are more confident and independent.”
Human rights advocates have characterized China’s treatment of the Uygur people in the Xinjiang region of China as a demographic genocide. Here’s how the Associated Press described China’s approach last summer:
The state regularly subjects minority women to pregnancy checks, and forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands, interviews and data show. Even while the use of IUDs and sterilization has fallen nationwide, it is rising sharply in Xinjiang.
The population control measures are backed by mass detention both as a threat and as a punishment for failure to comply. Having too many children is a major reason people are sent to detention camps, the AP found, with the parents of three or more ripped away from their families unless they can pay huge fines. Police raid homes, terrifying parents as they search for hidden children.
Thursday’s tweet from the Chinese Embassy in the United States links to an article in the China Daily, a publication of the Chinese Communist Party, that disputes these claims. The article claims that as China has eradicated “religious extremism” from the region, Uygur women have freely chosen to use birth control more, leading to a decline in birth rates in the region. It dismisses claims by “some Western scholars and politicians” that China has engaged in forced sterilizations of Uygurs.
Twitter regularly takes down content that violates its rules. Twitter’s rule against hateful conduct states that users “may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race,” ethnicity, or religion. Users are also not allowed to “target individuals and groups with content intended to incite fear or spread fearful stereotypes about a protected category”—such as “all [religious group] are terrorists.”
Twitter also bans “the dehumanization of a group of people” based on their religion, race, or ethnicity.
On Thursday evening, I emailed Twitter to ask whether the tweet ran afoul of the rules. A Twitter spokesman quickly responded to say that it did not. “This Tweet is not in violation of our policies,” he wrote to Ars.
Twitter’s rules are vague enough that it’s hard to say for sure whether the tweet violates the letter of the policies. It doesn’t explicitly call for violence against the Uygur minority. Indeed it insists that the Uygurs haven’t been victims of violence or dehumanization at all. At the same time, claiming that Uygur women were being held back by “extremist” views that turned them into “baby-making machines” does seem rather dehumanizing. And Twitter might want to take into account not only the literal words of the tweet but also the broader context of the Chinese government’s actions in the Xinjiang region.