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There are a lot of changes going on at Twitter. From December 18, the social media site is promising big changes:
Many users believe Twitter has a white supremacist problem. This was only exacerbated when Jason Kessler, the organizer of the Unite the Right protest—the one in which white supremacists held cheap Tiki torches and Heather Heyer was murdered—was given a blue verified checkmark by Twitter. Protests ensued, boycotts were planned, and Jason Kessler, alongside various other far-Right accounts, lost their verified ticks. Because of this, Twitter is promising a big shake-up of its site on December 18, in which it will remove accounts that violate its terms of service.
However, Jason Kessler wasn’t the catalyst for this change at all. That was Milo Yiannopoulos, prominent internet provocateur, who was permanently suspended from Twitter last year after allegedly siccing his fans on Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones. Yiannopoulos’s behavior provided those on the Left with an excuse to label Twitter a haven for far-Right nationalism, and the Right used it as an excuse to claim Twitter was a haven for far-Left echo chambers and censoring their voices. Not long after Yiannopoulos’s suspension, “classical liberal” Sargon of Akkad was also permanently suspended from Twitter. Twitter’s issues were only just beginning.
Now Twitter has issued an ultimatum: Follow our updated guidelines or we’ll force you off our site. While Twitter is its own company and is free to do what it wants, granted that is within the boundaries of the law, some of their new Twitter Rules are interesting, to say the least:
At times, we may prevent certain content from trending. This includes content that violates the Twitter Rules, as well as content that may attempt to manipulate trends.
While this may make sense if spammers, scammers and PR “gurus” are spamming Twitter with misleading hashtags, or if neo-Nazis or ISIS terrorists are using a specific hashtag to indoctrinate and manipulate, this sentence is vague enough that it doesn’t necessarily refer to any of these examples. “Content that violate the Twitter Rules”…it says in the Twitter Rules.
We believe in freedom of expression and open dialogue, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up. In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we prohibit behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.
Sounds fair, right? However, Twitter seems unable to enforce this evenly. For example, Milo Yiannopoulos was rightfully suspended for egging his supporters into harassing another Twitter user, but how about someone who believes you deserve to be murdered because you have a penis? That’s not worthy of suspension? That’s not using a platform to silence? Well, that’s the case of Kate Morgan, who violated the Twitter Rules and gets to keep her account:
This is not the only example. Twitter has verified hundreds of users who violate Twitter’s terms and conditions. Their verification of Jason Kessler just seems to be normal protocol, and to claim otherwise is to be swimming in a pool of hypocrisy.
When Twitter can’t even enforce their own rules evenly, how can you trust they will be able to remove any wrongthinking accounts come December 18? Banning someone like Milo Yiannopoulos—who has a track record of behavior that clearly violates Twitter’s Rules—makes sense, but how about others who very loosely “violate” the Rules of Twitter, which seem to be constantly changing?
You also may not affiliate with organizations that — whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform — use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes.
If you affiliate with someone banned by Twitter while you are not on Twitter, you yourself can be permanently banned from Twitter. While this might make sense with those who communicate with members of Islamic State or obvious neo-Nazi groups, the Twitter Rules do not simply refer to this. Otherwise, members and sympathizers of terrorist groups would have been banned off the site long ago. If those who are pro-ANTIFA—an organization that promotes violence against anyone they loosely deem a Nazi—can remain on Twitter, and even those affiliating with ANTIFA can have verified badges, then what is the point of Twitter Rules, because it’s clear Twitter is not using its own terms and guidelines?
Basically, we should be concerned that Twitter, a site unable to enforce its own rules, has set a threatening deadline to ban and suspend those who violate said Twitter Rules. When harassers can remain on the site, granted they have the correct political views, there is a problem. However, if one reports excessive spammers and obviously fake accounts, Twitter will usually claim this is not a violation of The Twitter Rules.
While Twitter should not be allowing people like Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler to spout their racist rhetoric, it is disingenuous to claim to be about removing those who spout hate speech if they also allow ANTIFA and ISIS members to roam freely without consequence. If Twitter doesn’t wish for their site to become the new MySpace—and Jack the new Tom—then they should stop censoring under the guise of helping us. Otherwise, if everybody with a slightly problematic opinion—i.e. basically everyone—leaves Twitter, then who does that leave?
Finally, allowing those with “problematic” beliefs to remain on your site does not mean you are endorsing them. It just means you are allowing them an online presence, and hopefully a space with which you can change their beliefs. Twitter does not endorse white supremacy because Richard Spencer is on their site any more than Iraq supports ISIS by default because ISIS was based in Iraq. It’s simply not true.
Remove anyone who violates the Twitter Rules, regardless of political affiliation, but please do not claim the December 18 ruling is to protect Twitter users. It is not. It is blatant censorship.