Twitter, ban, free speech, censorship

Twitter Vows to Fight Harassment; Racist, Misogynist Trolls Outraged

So Why’s Everybody Mad, Red and Nude Online This Time?

Twitter recently formed a Trust and Safety Council to help it deal with its harassment problem. That council will reportedly include Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist who became the target of a vicious harassment campaign after she made a couple of videos examining the way video games portray women.

The move enraged Twitter’s large population of hateful assholes. Mark Kern, a washed-up game developer formerly known for being a really awful boss whose nowadays spends most of his time retweeting sexual images of underage anime girls, complained that Sarkeesian’s inclusion in the council showed bias:

Presumably, Kern wants the anti-harassment council to include a few pro-harassment members. Some hateful assholes are comparing the move to dystopian totalitarianism:

Yes, I think we all remember that famous quotation from George Orwell’s novel 1984:

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a woman using the internet without receiving graphic threats of sexual violence – forever.*

*Not an actual Orwell quote

Very little has actually changed on Twitter since the announcement, but that hasn’t changed the website’s haters from engaging in wild conspiracy theories. Many claim Twitter has “shadowbanned” them, making their tweets invisible to other users without their knowledge:

However, Twitter doesn’t shadowban its users. These people only think they’ve been shadowbanned because their tweets aren’t very popular, similar to how greasy so-called “men’s rights activists” (MRAs) think that a vast feminist conspiracy is keeping them from getting laid.

Some turds have threatened to quit. Men’s rights activist/white supremacist Matt Forney (who has already been banned for harassment once) complained that the website is biased against people of his political persuasion. Forney defines himself as a conservative, but GOP strategist Rich Wilson would probably call him a “childless single man who masturbates to anime”.

https://twitter.com/basedmattforney/status/700106726947889153

I think the majority of us can agree that it’s probably okay to be biased against people whose politics are so regressive that they’re actually racist against the Irish.

https://twitter.com/basedmattforney/status/699481733100650497

Many hateful ogres tried to switch to Quitter, another microblogging site, only to find that they were not welcome there either. Quitter temporarily closed registrations and updated its Terms of Service to condemn hate speech. The service also promises to ban or shadowban anyone who acts like a hateful asshole:

Users who harass others will be removed. We also take a strong stance against e.g. racism, sexism, ableism, homo- and transphobia. Such expressions make the site unsafe for other users, and in practice limit their freedom of speech.

The Public Timeline is considered an especially sensitive place. It is what new users see, and all registered users will see the posts published there. Moderators can exclude users from appearing in the public timeline it at any moment, without warning, permanently or temporarily. Consider it a privilege to be published in the public timeline, not a right.

Twitter’s worst trolls are finally learning that there are consequences to being awful trolls, even on the internet. That consequence is that no one likes you.

 

Why Did Twitter Create This Council?

Twitter has had a bit of a harassment problem for quite some time now. It has made the news quite a few times, and has slowly begun to earn the website a bad reputation.

In 2014, Robin Williams’s daughter Zelda briefly quit Twitter after hateful assholes sent her cruel messages mocking her father’s suicide. Last January, Anne Wheaton announced she was leaving Twitter because she was sick of the negativity:

As my online presence grew, there were people who don’t follow me showing up to say something horrible about me, my husband, or my children. Yes, they can be muted, blocked, or reported, and I was doing that all the time, every day. Sometimes I responded because like I said, in real life I stand up for myself so occasionally, I will do that online. But after a while, it’s like trying to smile and have a pleasant conversation with a kind person in a room full of people screaming hateful things in your face.

Fearful of losing more high-profile users and becoming known as a cesspool of hate and harassment (basically Low Attention Span Reddit), Twitter decided to take steps to cull its hateful herd.

 

They’re Just Words. Get Over It.

Harassment is more than just mean words that hurt people’s feelings. Harassment can get pretty serious.

For example, the harassment directed at Anita Sarkeesian has included many threats of rape and murder. Check out just a small sample of the ugliness she received in just one week.

http://femfreq.tumblr.com/post/96569154020/yes-please-explain-to-me-again-how-this-has

So what? They’re just words! It’s not like anybody ever actually follows through on death threats they post on the internet! Except actually it turns out sometimes they do, like Grace Mann, a college student in Virginia, who was murdered after being the target of an internet harassment campaign.

Even if harassment doesn’t lead to murder, it can still negatively affect a person’s life. After she criticized the nerdy hate group known as GamerGate, Felicia Day (weird how most of this harassment is targeted at women) had her personal details posted online (“doxxing”), leaving her vulnerable to threats stalking and identity theft.

One tech social justice activist named Randi Lee Harper got SWATed, which is what happens when a hateful asshole makes a fraudulent police report in order to send the SWAT team to somebody’s home. Fortunately, Randi was expecting it and had told the police such a thing might happen, so the SWAT team did not break down her door with guns blazing. It’s probably the only reason why her dog didn’t get shot.

 

Twitter Is Showing Political Bias!

Washed-up actor Adam Baldwin announced he was quitting Twitter because the website was censoring conservative voices. But make no mistake; Baldwin is not a garden-variety conservative. Baldwin is a far-right reactionary and a major member of the nerdy hate group known as GamerGate. Baldwin has a history of harassing other user; he proudly spread malicious lies about a female game developer’s sex life. People like Adam Baldwin aren’t being censored for being conservative; they’re facing consequences for being hateful and vindictive.

Most human beings agree that it’s reasonable to be biased against hateful assholes. Hateful assholes are not a protected class. The law does not offer hateful assholes special protection from discrimination the way it does to people of ethnic minority status. It’s okay to discriminate against hateful assholes.

If people with your political affiliation have a habit of harassing people on the internet, then maybe your political affiliation is bad.

 

What About the First Amendment?

Here is the text of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Note that the text refers to Congress, not a private corporation like Twitter. Twitter has a legal right to ban whatever kind of speech it likes. If Twitter wants to, it can ban its users from using prepositions or semicolons.

Twitter banning you for sending death threats isn’t an infringement on your free speech any more than Panda Buffet kicking you out for taking a dump in the egg roll tray is an infringement on your freedom of assembly.

No civilized nation has completely unregulated speech. Death threats are generally against the law, as is slander and child pornography.

Besides all that, harassment is not free speech. Harassment is censorship. It’s an attempt to eliminate someone else’s speech through coercion. Those threatening Anita Sarkeesian with rape and murder weren’t engaging in public discourse; they were trying to scare her into silence.

SWATing a political opponent is a perfect example of censorship: it uses state power to suppress another person’s speech. Though they claim to value free speech, GamerGaters attempted to censor Harper by sending men with guns to her door.

 

How Will Twitter Actually Deal With Harassment?

Twitter has wanted to deal with its harassment problem for a while, but it hasn’t had much success. In a 2015 memo, the CEO admitted, “we suck” at dealing with online abuse.

In his defense, moderating an enormous online forum like Twitter can’t be easy. When banned, a user can just make a new account, and there are plenty of ways to get around an IP ban as well.

Twitter does have Terms of Service setting some ground rules for its users, but in the past the company hasn’t done a great job of enforcing its rules. Those who dox and harass others can get away with it if they have a big enough follower count. If Twitter tries to ban a popular troll, there’s often a backlash from other trolls (similar to the situation when Ellen Pao tried to clean up Reddit).

Nevertheless, it appears as though Twitter has recently decided to actually enforce its Terms of Service. The website has banned a few serious offenders, including a number of far-right reactionary white supremacists. Other haters are very upset.

Overall, Twitter has expressed a lot of interest in culling its herd of hateful bigots, but before now it hadn’t actually done very much.

Twitter's CEO, on its harassment problem
Twitter’s CEO, on its harassment problem

Randi Harper published a list of technical suggestions as to how Twitter can “put out [its] trashfire.” Her ideas include tying accounts to unique phone numbers (to prevent hateful users from evading bans and making multiple accounts), creating a better reporting system, allowing users to mute all replies to a tweet and more.

Will Twitter actually do anything about its problem, or is this new council just lip service? Who knows. What we do know is that as long as this Trust and Safety Council causes a few vile, hateful racists and misogynists to quit Twitter in a huff, then it’s worth it.