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Twitter announced in a statement issued Tuesday a new protected class is being recognized by the online forum: Religious groups. The move comes as one religion has campaigned for decades for a global ban on speech critical of Islam, while other major religions have been content to use public persuasion rather then the jackboot of government or corporate totalitarianism to deal with critics.

Several examples posted by Twitter are already covered under existing rules, so the addition of a protected class makes the move appear more toward controlling thought and debate than maintaining civil behavior online.

Twitter has in recent years sent warning notices to critics of Islam from the government of Pakistan and has also suspended accounts for criticism of Islam. This notice makes it official, however the guidelines are ambiguous and will likely have a chilling effect of muting critics.

Twitter said this is the first step and that more groups will be added to the protected list later.

Announcement posted by Twitter, “Today we’re announcing an expansion to this policy which will address dehumanizing language towards religious groups. This is just the first step. Over time we’ll expand the policy to include more groups and update you along the way. Learn more:”

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