Short of Suspension: How Suspension Warnings Can Reduce Hate Speech on Twitter

Yildirim, Mustafa Mikdat; Nagler, Jonathan; Bonneau, Richard; Tucker, Joshua A.
Perspectives on Politics

Debates around the effectiveness of high-profile Twitter account suspensions and similar bans on abusive users across social media platforms abound. Yet we know little about the effectiveness of warning a user about the possibility of suspending their account as opposed to outright suspensions in reducing hate speech. With a pre-registered experiment, we provide causal evidence that a warning message can reduce the use of hateful language on Twitter, at least in the short term. We design our messages based on the literature on deterrence, and test versions that emphasize the legitimacy of the sender, the credibility of the message, and the costliness of being suspended. We find that the act of warning a user of the potential consequences of their behavior can significantly reduce their hateful language for one week. We also find that warning messages that aim to appear legitimate in the eyes of the target user seem to be the most effective. In light of these findings, we consider the policy implications of platforms adopting a more aggressive approach to warning users that their accounts may be suspended as a tool for reducing hateful speech online.