Robby Soave: Did Twitter’s Orwellian ‘Trust and Safety’ Council Get Robert Stacy McCain Banned? –

CK MacLeod

WordPresser: Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001.

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126 Responses

  1. Will Truman says:

    Podheretz losing his blue checkmark was weird.Report

  2. Roland Dodds says:

    This is a bit scary. Yes, Twitter is a private company, but the site plays a rather important public role as well. There needs to be more conversation about what platforms like this actually owe to society (if anything). It worries me that at some point it will simply ban people who hold/share/say unpopular things that some folks find offensive. How about islamist accounts used to communicate ISIS ideas? I have found those pretty useful to better understanding the organization, but banning them would simply push them out to the deep web and/or Arabic only sites.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Roland Dodds says:

      The question becomes: do we want to make social media platforms common carriers?

      I don’t think we should. For one we’ve never done that with any aspect of the press – the closest was the Fairness Docrrine, which itself I’m not fond of.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Kolohe says:

        If they don’t want to be subject to common carrier regulation, that’s fine, but it’s hard to see how they can be both a DMCA Safe Harbor and not a common carrier.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Roland Dodds says:

      According to this story in Atlantic, Twitter’s censorship of ISIS accounts is effective in hobbling their ability to communicate.Report

    • North in reply to Roland Dodds says:

      It’s not actually that scary, because it’s twitter. If Twitter does exclude one side of the spectrum from speaking then in very short order that side will also stop listening. Then Twitter will slide off into irrelevancy. It already speaks for a small number of actual people, once half the elite stop reading it it’ll vanish out of the common discourse as well.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    Why in the hell would Twitter do this to a journalist?

    I can understand banning gamergaters. It seems dumb to pick a fight with one of those ink by the barrel people. Not because of the one guy… but because other journalists start talking about it and next thing you know, the story is in the public domain and you no longer control it.

    That wouldn’t happen if you were just banning teenage boys living in their momma’s basement wearing cheet-o dust etc, etc, etc.Report

    • trizzlor in reply to Jaybird says:

      In what way is RSM a journalist and not just a fairly popular blogger in a very niche genre?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

        He worked for The Washington Times and worked there as an editor and wrote stories that were bylined. I suppose we could true Scotsman him down to “former journalist” or whathaveyou… We could hammer that The Washington Times isn’t a “real” newspaper and people who write for it aren’t “real” journalists and then, once you quit your job, you are no longer a “journalist” but a “former journalist”?

        Is that what we’re going for here?

        The whole issue of “other journalists talking about it” remains and when that issue is followed by the “losing the narrative” one, it’s still a thing that appears to be going on despite how RSM is not a “real” journalist who worked for a “real” paper and, besides, he quit.

        But, sure. We can true Scotsman him down to former journalist who, besides, never worked at a “real” newspaper if you want.Report

        • Trizzlor in reply to Jaybird says:

          I guess I see a meaningful difference between “ink by the barrel guy” and “journalist who quit 10 years ago to focus on blogging about his revulsion to interracial relationships”. It sounds like you see “journalist” as being a lifetime appointment that immunizes one from adhering to commenting policies.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Trizzlor says:

            I think I see it as something like a trade. “Why did you call him a carpenter? He hasn’t worked at the carpentry store for a decade!”

            But, sure. We can talk about how awful of a person he is for a while if you’d like. Personally, I think he’s an awful person. Don’t you?Report

            • trizzlor in reply to Jaybird says:

              I appreciate your insistence on shifting the conversation to uninteresting topics.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

                The interesting part of the topic that I think is that twitter made an avoidable mistake in going after a former journalist who didn’t even work for a real newspaper who is a horrible person anyway because of the web of relationships that even former journalists who didn’t even work for a real newspaper who are horrible people anyway happen to have.

                And, indeed, we’re not here looking at a particularly odious tweet that he made and putting people in a situation where they’re saying “I’m not defending what he said! I’m defending the idea that he ought to have a platform from which to say it!” but, instead, we’re here discussing that he was a bad person who shouldn’t have been allowed to speak in the first place.

                And that’s interesting too, I guess.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Then again, my assumption is that this sort of thing being brought into the light is something that will hurt Twitter right in the pocketbook.

                If, of course, it’s something that will result in Twitter not being hurt by, no big.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:

                It’s never been entirely clear how Twitter makes money, or even if they do, but I doubt any sort of scare quote “censorship” will affect their bottom line at all.

                Something interesting I saw years ago (circa 2011 maybe) was that unlike every other tech platform with widespread adoption up till then, twitter users were over represented among ethnic minorities (and maybe women?) compared to their percentage in the general population.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kolohe says:

                It’s not really the “OMG CENSORSHIP” that strikes me as weirdly noteworthy as much as the whole undercurrent of the censorship group appears to be twitter taking sides in the culture war part of it.

                People love censorship, after all.Report

              • trizzlor in reply to Jaybird says:

                My view is that you’re greatly overvaluing McCain’s history as a journalist, especially given that he wasn’t using twitter in any clear journalistic capacity. My guess is that Twitter was looking to make an example – which is what you need for a working comment policy – and found the most mainstream Tweep who still had an objectively odious history. On the merits, while we don’t know exactly what tweet sparked the suspension, RSM’s posts would have gotten him banned from OT long ago. So it’s still not clear to me what the specific argument is against Twitter’s actions here.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

                Perhaps I’m overvaluing his relationships and ability to get this story in front of more eyeballs than, say, a momma’s boy living in his momma’s basement wearing pajamas and watching My Little Pony.

                I don’t think that this is a story that will benefit Twitter the more people that see it.

                And without a smoking gun that will make people say “ew… I can see why they banned him”, they’re stuck talking about how he was a bad person who shouldn’t have been allowed to tweet.

                Which ain’t a winning argument. Or, perhaps, wouldn’t have been a winning argument a few years back.

                Maybe it’s a winning argument today. We’ll see.Report

              • trizzlor in reply to Jaybird says:

                I should have started by asking you what you think Twitter is actually trying to accomplish here, and how you see targeting RSM instead of members of the cheeto-squad fits into that goal. FWIW, I don’t think Twitter is interested in arbitrarily lashing out at citizen journalists valiantly trying to spread the news about female oppression.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

                What are they trying to accomplish? They’re trying to do several things. Some of which are admirable. They’re trying to help make twitter a safer place and set a standard of behavior.

                But one of them presents identically to “no platforming ideological enemies”.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:

                ‘Platforming’? Verbing weirds language.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kolohe says:

                Well, my familiarity with the phrase is always with the two words: “no platforming”.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                No platformate? Sounds like a shell game.Report

              • trizzlor in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yeah, I guess if you think Twitter is genuinely committed to the feminazi cause and wants to use Robespierre-like powers to stamp out dissent, then their focus on RSM is very confusing. On the other hand, if you think Twitter only cares about brand identity and keeping the MRAs and SJWs splintered enough so the doxxing (and resulting media attention) is at a minimum … then suspending the popular, relatively moderate gadflys like RSM makes much more sense. I’ll take selfish + smart over evil + stupid.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

                Is this some sort of cognitive dissonance thing?

                I say “I think X” and you write back with “Sure, if you think Y AND Z AND ALEPH!!!!”

                I’m not confused by their focus on RSM. It makes perfect sense if you see it as them silencing a critic. But, without a smoking gun (or even a bunch of little smoking knives, say), you’re stuck pointing out that he’s not allowed to use Twitter because he said odious things on places that weren’t Twitter and is therefore a bad person etc, etc, etc and so it’s not a big deal if he can’t use it.

                And that’s fine.

                But if the story is that MinSpeech is capricious in addition to vigilant, that’s a story they’d not want to get out. The normies get worried when they notice swords of Damocles hanging about.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Twitter had forced RSM’s bilge into the public mind and a number of perfectly rational people react to him with an altogether natural revulsion. The person who does not mind his being published in obscure blogs may yet be averse to seeing his spew on Twitter, and THIS IS NOT CENSORSHIP, no matter what Reason, National Review, and Pajamas Media tell us.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Oh, I’m familiar with all of the reasons that we shouldn’t consider this to be censorship. Twitter is a private company, after all.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Was that too obscure?Report

              • It’s an almost word-for-word paraphrase of RSM klansplaining why an innate revulsion for interracial relationships IS NOT RACISM.Report

              • trizzlor in reply to Jaybird says:

                Where am I misrepresenting your argument? Twitter is being capricious because it’s in bed with the feminazis, who have a long-standing grudge against McCain for things he’s said in the past. I agree that this is one interpretation.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

                My point is not that that is one interpretation. My point is that that particular interpretation is one that Twitter does not want to be seen as particularly credible (whether or not it is true).

                That particular interpretation would be bad for business.

                Or, at least, it would have been a few years ago.Report

        • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

          How many articles do you need to get published under other people’s bylines to count as a journalist? (People are just publishing Bush’s press release for the AP. Perhaps mildly massaged). At some point do you change from being a Public Relations Guru to being a Journalist?
          How much real news (actual research) do you need to do?Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

      “Why in the hell would Twitter do this to a journalist?”

      Because they figure that they have more users who are happy to see this happen than they have users who are worried about what it means.Report

  4. trizzlor says:

    Twitter has learned a lesson from Reddit that r/CoonTown isn’t actually a good hill to die on in the free speech battle. Good communities require good community police. Twitter’s product is a community where you can kibbitz with your friends and watch Kanye be Kanye; all of the SJWs and MRAs combined don’t matter an iota in comparison to maintaining that image.

    PS: Does Reason have editors? Because their description of the Twitter Council as “an imperious-sounding committee with Robespierre-esque powers to police discussion on the social media platform” doesn’t actually describe what the Twitter Council is at all. I get that this is an audience for which the mere mention of “Sarkeesian” and “Yiannopoulos” has deep totemic meaning, but maybe try actually explaining your argument to people just stopping by to see what the kool aid tastes like.Report

    • Does Reason have editors?

      It used to, but …

      It is said that catastrophes are a matter of pure chance, and there were those who would have said that the passengers of the Comet were not guilty or responsible for the thing that happened to them.

      The man in Bedroom A, Car No. 1, was an editor of a libertarian print magazine that features politics, culture, and ideas through a mix of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews. He consistently reduced the effectiveness of its contents by “fact-checking” them in ways that valued minor accuracies over larger truths.


    • DensityDuck in reply to trizzlor says:

      You say “let’s watch Kanye be Kanye”, someone else is saying “when did it get to be OK for us to point and laugh at a confused black man?”Report

  5. Christopher Carr says:

    What’s twitter? Is that where twits hang out on the Internet now that Myspace is gone?Report

  6. And then they came for the giant flaming assholes, And I didn’t speak up because there was no need. It’s not like giant flaming asshole are shy.Report

  7. Stillwater says:

    the social media platform explicitly claimed it was trying to strike a balance between allowing free speech and prohibiting harassment and abuse. But its selections for this committee were entirely one-sided—there’s not a single uncompromising anti-censorship figure or group on the list.

    I think I found the problem with the argument: there would be no need to put an uncompromising anti-censorship figure on the committee since that person’s recommendations would be crystal clear: “don’t prohibit nothin.”

    Ya can’t compromise with someone who’s uncompromising, after all.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater says:

      Maybe uncompromising anti-censorship individuals and organizations might make more detailed arguments than “censorship is bad?” They don’t have to have veto power, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have input.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        In practice, that doesn’t work out. People ignore that guy because he’s not nuanced. “Yes Bob, we get it. We shouldn’t censor at all. Would you mind, we’re trying to figure out if we should or not in this case and you’re absolutely pointless here”.

        Given censorship was going to happen, you’d want a board with a wide enough representation to make good choices. After all, in the end — they’re a business. Good choices and bad choices will shake out, right? Marketplace and all.

        Of course, and I’m sure this infuriates a few commentators at Reason, the whole reason they have such a board is because it’s bad business not to. Not censoring the most extreme cases will lose than far more business than blipping the occasional user.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Morat20 says:

          “Does the First Amendment contain any specific language about rape threats that contain the victim’s home address? All right then: open and shut.”Report

        • Glyph in reply to Morat20 says:

          Well, then it’s important that whoever the new Supreme Court Justice is, he or she not be adamantly pro- or anti- any principle, like “choice”, or whatever.

          If they are, they’ll just be ignored anyway, and have nothing to bring to the process.Report

          • Morat20 in reply to Glyph says:

            In real life, if your committee exists to do determine when and how to do X, having a guy that is resolutely “NEVER X” on it is pointless. Everyone ignores that guy, because he’s never going to say “Do X”. Instead the rest of the committee functions as if he’s not there.

            Not to mention there’s a freaking world of difference between a committee tasked with handling an already decided course of action and determining when and how to do it — and determining whether something should happen ever at all.

            To make your analogy accurate — it would indeed be important to make sure that anyone nominated to the Supreme Court doesn’t believe SCOTUS should never make decisions. The equivilant of an ” uncompromising anti-censorship individual” on a committee tasked with censoring when necessary is equivilant to a SCOTUS justice who doesn’t believe in judging.

            There are quite a few Americans who don’t believe the courts have any validity. But if you put one on SCOTUS, the other 8 judges would ignore him for the obvious reason that they have jobs to do and he’s entirely pointless to their jobs.

            I mean you do get the difference between a committee designed to handle content Twitter considers inappropriate (which is to remove it) and a committee to determine whether Twitter should handle inappropriate content at all.Report

            • Glyph in reply to Morat20 says:

              Maybe the problem is that we are trying to resolve the real world with a theoretical “uncompromising anti-censorship individual” – that is, the sort of strawman who would say “never, ever, in any circumstances, censor”

              For example, I consider myself very, very strong on free speech and very anti-censorship. But if, here at OT, someone wanted to use the n-word without good justification (reporting on a current or historical event, or in service of a valid argument or rhetorical point), I’d be saying “hell no, not here, Jack.”

              So which am I? Obviously, I just compromised. But I still think of myself as very, very opposed to censorship. If you want someone to pretty dependably take the free speech/anti-censorship end, I still feel like I could be your guy.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

                Put more simply, “uncompromising anti-censorship person” is obviously to some degree a figure of speech (and a matter of degree in the real world), and to point out that [unicorn that does not really exist] wouldn’t be much help in the real-world situation, doesn’t really undercut the actual point that [person who is very very strong anti-censorship] would probably be a good person to have on such a committee, as a check or balance.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Glyph says:

                Hey, don’t look at me — that was Reason’s complaint, not mine.

                I was just pointing out that Reason’s own suggestion would work in context.

                We have no idea how that committee is arranged, and I somehow doubt it’s filled with super-trigger happy people. I suspect it runs rather a range, but being a business is probably slightly more tilted towards “better safe than sorry”.

                But Reason complained that no one on the committee was totally anti-censorship. Which is really akin to complaining none of the Supreme Court justices is anti-judicial system. And that adding one, for balance or whatever, just wouldn’t matter.

                In the end, Twitter is a business. And it’s committee here is undoubtedly filled with folks that are trying to balance the platform selling points (“Say what you want! Converse in 140 characters!”) and the fact that, well, a**holes make people stop using it. So, in the real world rather than whatever spittle-flecked black-and-white world the original quote was inhabiting, there’s also a pretty strong pro-and-con balance. There’s just no absolutists because, well, they have a job to do.Report

              • Kim in reply to Morat20 says:

                Is CAT on the committee? Will we be happier when our bot overlords are making the decisions? (they’ll probably be more analytic then, fwiw)Report

              • Kim in reply to Glyph says:

                If you’re banned from certain first world countries, I think you count as strongly anti-censorship.Report

    • trizzlor in reply to Stillwater says:

      Also note that if Sarkeesian has been making videos about Taqiyya instead of video games, and received death-threats at her home and bomb-threats at her speeches, then she too would be considered a heroic anti-censorship figure.Report

    • clawback in reply to Stillwater says:

      Maybe they could counter the guy whose job it is to keep spewing platitudes about free speech with another guy who keeps repeating that freedom is speech is not an issue since Twitter is not a government. I believe the resulting meetings would illustrate the glory of the principle of free speech.Report

  8. Kazzy says:

    So now we’re applying “Orwellian” to a private company?

    Is irony dead?Report

  9. Kazzy says:

    “…here’s not a single uncompromising anti-censorship figure or group on the list. It looks like Twitter gave control of its harassment policy to a bunch of ideologues…”

    “Uncompromising anti-censorship” =/= ideology.Report

  10. Chip Daniels says:

    I don’t have Twitter, and am barely familiar with RSM, so I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another on this dust up.
    I do think its interesting though, that RSM and Reason raise the spectre of censorship, when RSM’s only injury was losing his privilege to issue 140 character bon mots, on a website he doesn’t even have to pay for.

    Meanwhile, that employee of Yelp complains about her pay, and suffers immediate loss of her income.

    I don’t think either case says much about rights, but I do think its interesting to compare who suffered worse injury, whose case we should be more sympathetic to, and why.
    Its also interesting to probe why this somehow is an issue that crossed Reason’s radar, and why- where is the liberty angle in this?Report

  11. j r says:

    A few random thoughts



    When I go to the Wikipedia page on censorship, this is the first sentence:

    Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions.

    I cannot see how this is, any meaningful way, anything other than censorship, but I would love to see an other definitions of censorship that would offer an alternative.


    Where am I misrepresenting your argument?

    Is that a serious question? Your characterization resembles Jaybird’s argument about as much as much as that old woman’s attempt to restore that 19th century Spanish fresco resembled the historical Jesus.

    Also, what exactly does this mean:

    Twitter has learned a lesson from Reddit that r/CoonTown isn’t actually a good hill to die on in the free speech battle.

    With this metaphor, you have somehow managed to attempt to analogize not banning someone from Twitter for ideological reasons with dying on a hill. In what way, does not banning people from Twitter for ideological offenses equal Twitter’s death?

    So now we’re applying “Orwellian” to a private company?

    I don’t see a problem with this. Back to Wikipedia:

    “Orwellian” is an adjective describing a situation, idea, or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society. It denotes an attitude and a brutal policy of draconian control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past, including the “unperson”—a person whose past existence is expunged from the public record and memory, practised by modern repressive governments.

    The whole notion of erasing people from the public record, even if in this case it is not a government doing the erasing, meets the definition of Orwellian.

    This conversation reminds me that liberal values are almost always a compromise in which people tolerate expression and behavior that they don’t like, often from people that they don’t like, because they understand that they may one day be on the other side and want the same consideration. Unfortunately, people who think that they are winning often don’t like to compromise so much.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

      See above for the subtext.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

      Though applying the usual test leads to this:

      If I send an op-ed to the New York Times, and they decide not to publish it, is that censorship? No: there is no presumption that a newspaper will publish everything it receives.

      If I try to tweet something, and Twitter refuses to transmit it, is that censorship? If so, there must be a presumption that they will transmit everything they receive. Where did that come from?Report

      • j r in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        If I send an op-ed to the New York Times, and they decide not to publish it, is that censorship?

        No, that’s an editorial decision. Twitter is a fundamentally different platform than the NYTimes op-ed page. Twitter doesn’t exercise editorial discretion over every Tweet from every account; rather, it enforces a code of conduct and excludes those who violate it. Twitter has every right to do that; it’s their platform. When Twitter excludes people whose views they find odious, as opposed to actually engaging in harassing behavior, then they are in fact censoring.

        Again, Twitter has every right to censor. It’s their platform. And they probably should censor to some extent. It’s still censoring though. Words don’t just magically change their meaning, because we don’t like some of the negative implications.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

      I’m sorry, when did Twitter “erase” this guy?Report

      • j r in reply to Kazzy says:

        When Twitter bans an account, it erases all the past content from that account on their platform. And they went the extra step of erasing the FreeStacy hashtag from the auto-complete function.

        I’ll keep saying this: none of this rises to the level of a great injustice in my eyes, but let’s at least call it by the right other words.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

          So having your Twitter account taken down is akin to being expunged from public memory?

          The very fact that this article exists is evidence that the guy very much remains a person. He just can’t Tweet. So if we’re calling things by what the are, “Orwellian” is not the proper term.Report

          • j r in reply to Kazzy says:

            So having your Twitter account taken down is akin to being expunged from public memory?

            Who said anything about public memory? Where I am disagreeing with you is that you are implying that only governments or only organizations with the power to enforce its decisions in the wider world can be Orwellian.

            I disagree. A private company can be Orwellian in its uses of language and in its policies, even if it only has the ability to enforce those policies within a limited sphere. Twitter’s Orwellian suspension policy is not any sort of existential threat to a free and open society, but it certainly has an impact on wider speech and expression norms.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

          And they went the extra step of erasing the FreeStacy hashtag from the auto-complete function.

          “Make Julia type it! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Make her type all 10 characters!. Not me! Julia! Not me!”Report

    • trizzlor in reply to j r says:

      Well, here’s my take on what happened with Reddit. At some point last year, Reddit had to deal with the fact that they were hosting the largest white-supremacist community on the internet (most prominently r/CoonTown). Their argument was that the ideological decision to allow these subs was more valuable than the detrimental effect they were having on other communities. This resulted in the mass exit of many popular community moderators; the very people that had lead to Reddit’s mass appeal. People simply didn’t want to volunteer their time fostering friendly discussions and getting cool guests to do AMA’s right next door to a Klavern (which would sometimes launch raids on other subs). Reddit ended up spending a lot of social capital defending a tiny sect of white supremacists at the cost the properties that were actually bringing in clicks. It’s not clear if this was the “death” of Reddit, but their reputation has taken a big hit and they have definitely changed their editorial stance.

      Twitter is starting to face a similar problem. On the one hand, they don’t have strict communities so groups of trolls are less concentrated. On the other hand, they have fewer boundaries and moderators, so it’s easier for the trolls to do damage. The people we’re talking about – McCain and Milo/Breitbart – have profitable blogs with thousands of active discussions, they have VDARE, Taki, 4Chan and a hundred other places where they can congregate with zero editorial control. They are not starved for attention. What makes Twitter appealing to them is precisely the fact that they co-exist with the moderate community; that they get to send their #WhiteGenocide campaigns directly to Barack Obama’s account; that they get a blue checkmark just like he does. They don’t want to hang out in the Klavern in the middle of the woods, they want to hang out in the Klavern at the mall. The problem is that no one wants to go to the mall with a Klavern in it. And this is precisely the behavior that will make Twitter unappealing to everyone else – especially the people that bring in the clicks and mass appeal. That’s the tension Twitter is now trying to resolve.Report

      • Kim in reply to trizzlor says:

        Trolls exercise plenty of editorial control.
        check out facebook’s polyamory group if you don’t believe me.

        Trolls wish to have places to boast about how crazy what they’ve done is, and they wish to be able to do crazy shit (often pretending to be nice, normal people).

        You’re not really trolling well until you create a three day furor, though. People posting #whitegenocide to Obama’s account really suck at being trolls.Report

      • j r in reply to trizzlor says:

        This comment involves a whole lot of speculation about other people’s motives masquerading as analysis. Do you have some substance behind the claim that Milo and RSM are part of or want to be part of a klavern, or is this all just shorthand for they are on the wrong team?

        If people engage in harassing behavior, if people are spreading ideas that are truly outside of the bounds of what Twitter finds acceptable, then by all means take action. But what’s happening here is something different. It’s Twitter taking side in the culture war and pretending to just be engaged in routine housekeeping.

        They have every right to do that. And others have every right to call it what it is.Report

        • trizzlor in reply to j r says:

          RSM writes about his revulsion of interracial relationships and his followers troll minority victims of police violence, Yiannopoulus writes about his physical disgust at the sight of feminists and his followers release their private information. There is plenty of literature available from them on the web, feel free to take a deep dive and decide for yourself if it’s all just signaling and tribalism. I think both writers have a long history of comments that would be considered ban-worthy here at OT so I’m surprised by the anger at Twitter for enforcing a similar commenting policy; is it just that they are on the right team?Report

          • Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

            is it just that they are on the right team?

            A very good question indeed.

            I suppose it’s worth asking if these rules are applied consistently according to a set of rules or if they’re merely applied arbitrarily.

            If it’s the former, we can say that it’s not about teams at all.Report

            • trizzlor in reply to Jaybird says:

              Right, except the metric here is “does this person and his followers substantially devalue the product we are selling” which is not trivially objective when the product is a pleasant community for people who click on ads. It can lead to situations where ISIS adherents plotting their next move over Arabic DMs are lower priority than a Breitbart writer publicly fat shaming female college professors. Even though the former is an obviously greater threat to Freedom than the latter.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to trizzlor says:

                As if there’s no evidence of “harassment by followers” occurring outside the unconfined confines of the further-right…

                Part of the problem here is that Twitter didn’t just appoint some nodding safe-space loving academic to Trust and Safety. It selected Anita Sarkeesian, a leading figure in the “Gamergate” controversy, and then, within virtual days of her appointment, a well-known figure who had taken the other side on Gamergate got banned without explanation. Rather strangely, a tweet/re-tweet by another well-known social conservative in support of McCain, Adam Baldwin, linking to an article in the Federalist appears to have resulted in virtual ban: For some reason, as of the last time I checked, all of Baldwin’s 8,000 tweets, except for the most recent one, were missing.


                (contains link to article mentioned)

                Who knows what’s going on? If Twitter doesn’t clarify the situation soon (and perhaps follow some or all of the Federalist’s measured suggestions), it risks turn this situation into a real problem for it, and into a rallying point for the people it is putting into the right.

                I’m not against “moderation” of on-line forums. I am in favor of people who are moderated into non-personhood being given explanations, and for those who do the moderating for owning up to their reasons – not because it is a “1st Amendment” issue, but because it’s the right thing to do.Report

              • Twitter appointed someone whose safety has been threatened by an online mob to try to police online mobs? Man, they should have found someone more objective on the subject.Report

              • Yeah, that’s a really bad idea, just like it’s a bad idea to ask the relative of a murder victim for an objective consideration of an arrestee’s legal defense. She should have been given a prominent role as a consultant, along with someone else – maybe that PR person who made that silly AIDS joke – and left policing, if any is necessary, to people with no motive for score-settling. At the very least, the, ahem, just cause for removing McCain or anyone should be given as specifically and accessibly as possible, if the objective is truly to support any feeling of “trust” and “safety” on the part of all participants in a diverse community. The same goes here, by the way: I’ve long supported public discussion of any bannings.

                And what the heck’s going on with Baldwin? And why I am asking you when you’re not even on Twitter?Report

              • Hoosegow Flask in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                According to IJR Baldwin deleted his entire history himself.Report

              • It’s as bad as having women testify before Congress about insurance covering birth control.Report

        • pillsy in reply to j r says:

          j r: It’s Twitter taking side in the culture war and pretending to just be engaged in routine housekeeping.

          I don’t think the distinction between the two is nearly as clear as you think. One of the things about the sort of community “housekeeping” you describe is that it’s going to be heavily influenced by housekeepers’ cultural norms[1] that the housekeepers. A lot of people would look look at Nero’s or RSM’s output and see something sufficiently revolting that it would never occur to them that they’re engaging in part of a culture war–they’re just reacting the way anyone would react.[2]

          As for me, I don’t particularly care if Twitter is being fair to the likes of Nero or RSM. I don’t even particularly care if it’s might stop being fair to the likes of me at some point in the future. I’ve enjoyed bloviating online for about twenty years, and have changed platforms many times in that span.

          [1] Or those of the customers they’re trying to mollify.

          [2] I suppose another way of thinking about it is that “culture war” is they’re often about people coming into conflict because they’re in each others’ metaphorical blind spots.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to trizzlor says:

        What stands out to me is how eager it seems “the right” is to claim this guy as one of their own.

        “Today, Twitter banned an unapologetic misogynist and racist.”
        “Hey! Stop picking on conservatives!”

  12. Kolohe says:

    McCain could always just make someone bake him cakes with his tweets written in icing.Report

  13. DensityDuck says:

    People didn’t seem to have a problem saying that a private company’s actions were “Orwellian censorship” back when this happened.Report

  14. veronica d says:

    So Sarkeesian has weighed in on the whole mess:

    My response is always, look, if this is just “the culture war,” then what the fuck people? Like, which culture do you defend? The fact is, gamergate really is misogynistic garbage and these people really are racist goons. Ban them. You will feel no loss, except that perhaps you can walk with a lighter step.


    There is this thing that happens in my day to day life, when some time passes — quite by random, I suspect — where I don’t get harassed by bigots for a few days. When this happens, I feel a change. It’s like, I’ll smile more, be more open, be more eager to talk to people.

    The other night I was waiting on the train platform and some dude tried chatting with me, and I just pulled my hoodie down tighter and ignored him. He kept trying. Blah. When the train arrived, he insisted on letting me board first. This was very creepy, since this meant I had to choose my seat first, which would let him choose to sit near me — or beside me! Which, yuck, double yuck. Fortunately I found a single-occupancy seat up front, with no other seats nearby.

    But here is the thing: this guy was almost certainly just a nice guy who liked meeting people. Chances are I was being unreasonably suspicious.


    But still, the fact was I didn’t have the emotional resources to deal with uncertainty. I just didn’t want to take chances on other humans at this moment. Which sucks. In a small way, my life was diminished.

    But when I take chances — well I better have the emotional resources in store, cuz I get harassed in ways that would shock most of you, just empty and pointless hostility, humiliation, and threats of violence. This happens a lot. Sometimes it is terrifying. I pay a price. It adds up. Little by little, it takes from me.


    Anyway, blah. If I ran Twitter, I would be pretty aggressive about blocking these fuckers. They add nothing and take much. They hurt people.

    In the culture war, our side is correct. The other side is a cesspool of racists, sexist, and violent shitheads. Reject them.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to veronica d says:

      “which culture do you defend?”

      I’d defend the one that says “we let people say whatever they want, including dangerously radical opinions like ‘transexuals should be allowed to use whichever bathroom they choose’ or ‘maybe pot shouldn’t actually be illegal’ or ‘any two people should be able to get married, not just cisgender-man-with-cisgender-woman’.”

      But hey, what do I know, I’m part of the cesspool of racists, sexists, and violent shitheads.Report

      • Trizzlor in reply to DensityDuck says:

        This is where I get confused. Are you opposed to online communities having any content codes at all? Why is this necessarily the only just way to run an online community? We already have 4chan, does every online forum need to become 4chan?Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Trizzlor says:

          If they take steps to be A Particular Sort Of Place and claim that it’s because they want to be A Particular Sort Of Place, I’m actually cool with that. I think they’ll rapidly learn exactly how few people want to hang out in A Particular Sort Of Place, but hey, maybe I’m wrong, and it’s not my dollar they’re betting.

          If they want to be A Particular Sort Of Place but claim that they aren’t choosing to be A Particular Sort Of Place, but instead are simply engaging in completely objective neutral maintenance activity the way one might clear rats and spiders from the house…now that’s a problem. Because you can justify a whole lot, actually, when you decide that it’s not a decision but is in fact the natural order forcing your hand. I think we’ve got plenty of evidence that people will do horrible, horrible things when they believe they’re just enforcing another entity’s dictates; and when that other entity is All Of Reality, who can even argue against that? I’m not making the decision to exclude, e.g., statements that present e-cigarettes in a positive light; I’m just responding to obvious scientific evidence that tobacco consumption is objectively bad for you.

          tl;dr if you wanna be TERFS-only, then say “we’re TERFS-only”. if you wanna be “anyone can say anything”, be “anyone can say anything”. Don’t be “anyone can say anything (but really it’s TERFS-only)”.Report

          • trizzlor in reply to DensityDuck says:

            Twitter has a formal TOS that forbids harassment, bullying, and intimidation (including “hateful conduct”). They made several announcements last year saying this was going to be a big priority for them, and handled on a case by case basis. They then made several announcements about the Safety Council and it’s members, which very publicly included Sarkeesian/Feminist-Frequency. How much more clear can they be that this is not an “anyone can say anything” venue?Report

            • DensityDuck in reply to trizzlor says:

              And if they want to roll that way, then they (and you) need to be comfortable with having people describe it that way.

              Like, not getting all huffy when someone says “you’re engaging in viewpoint-based discrimination and you’ve always been saying that was a bad thing to do”. Own it! Be loud! Be like veronica d or Trump!Report

              • Trizzlor in reply to DensityDuck says:

                I didn’t realize bullying and harassment were a viewpoint.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Trizzlor says:

                The charge is “Selective Enforcement.”

                Which may be a phony charge. It could be that those are simply the cases being reported. And enforcement of such things is really hard by its very nature and so results could be lumpy.

                But that’s the nature of the complaint. The rules are so broad or vague that they can’t possibly be enforced uniformly, and so either they’re not supposed to be or they will effectively not be because some groups have more attention than others.Report

              • trizzlor in reply to Will Truman says:

                If the charge is that specific viewpoints are being blocked regardless of behavior then I’ve yet to see any evidence to support this. Nearly everyone who talks about Johnson, RSM, or Milo starts of by saying “yeah, these guys were probably trolling”. If the charge is that the commenting policy is too vague then the way to demonstrate this would be to point to another community where the policy is sharp and the community continues to function in the way Twitter desires. I provided a counter-example in Reddit, which had a weak but precise policy and that nearly lead to it’s demise.

                I see a lot of people going into this debate with a certain set of values that intuitively apply to government/force, and not doing the hard work of explaining why these values should apply to the business of moderating online communities.Report

              • veronica d in reply to trizzlor says:

                I see a lot of people going into this debate with a certain set of values that intuitively apply to government/force, and not doing the hard work of explaining why these values should apply to the business of moderating online communities.

                This is a good insight. Twitter is not a republic, thus they do not have a republican form of governance. This is maybe a bad thing, but perhaps it is a good thing. The question is: will their moderation structure lead to a community that thrives or one that languishes? Also, who will the community serve? It probably cannot serve everyone, so how do you choose between them? This calls for a strategy.

                I work for {bigtech}, and the fact is we cannot please everyone. Nor can we freely engage with social media, simply because our communication is treated quite differently from a private actor’s. The scale is different, as are the stakes. There are balances of consideration, which goes to Tod’s point in the other thread about how “clear rules” can be a dead end toward achieving the goals.Report

              • trizzlor in reply to veronica d says:

                Spot on, especially given that we have *many many* examples libertarian comment policies leading to very bad online communities, and few examples of good communities.Report

              • Kim in reply to trizzlor says:

                I think neopets was better without the filter…
                4chan hasn’t always done completely awful things either (they made that nice video game about disabled girls,and everyone nearly fell over at the idea that /b/ could actually be sensitive).

                What counts as a very bad online community, anyway? Where half the community commits suicide? Where the FBI cruises it regularly to pick up bad guys? Where it’s considered fun to assign FBI agents to look at diaper fetishes?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to trizzlor says:

                I see a lot of people going into this debate with a certain set of values that intuitively apply to government/force, and not doing the hard work of explaining why these values should apply to the business of moderating online communities.

                I think on one level it’s armchair critiquing: a lot of folks detached from the actual issues making pronouncements about “the right way to do things”, or more frequently “Twitter did it wrong!”. I think the closer you are to the actual issues the murkier they get. In particular, if you’re as close to them as Twitter management is…That said…

                Personally I think the best way to address the issue of private censorship of speech is to abandon all the analogical reasoning derived from government restrictions (it’s not analogous) as well as Absolutist Free Speech Robustity (that view requires argument to not beg the question), and argue straight pragmatics: that in the long run, permitting the expression of offensive, illiberal speech is the best way to defeat those ideas.

                Of course, as you’ve been arguing, the pragmatics of the situation aren’t restricted to considerations of speech itself but include the business interests of the firm or organization confronted with difficult decisions regarding offensive speech.

                So the tension arises when the ideal of Speech Robustity makes contact with a messy ole world comprised of bigots, people harassed by bigots, and a firm trying to maximize the number of users for financial interests.

                Which leaves the issue of whether Speech Robustity would, in the long run, lead to a more liberal, tolerant society. And all I can say is that even if true, Twitter is acting rationally if they choose to reject it.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to trizzlor says:

                The issue is more with executive than legislative, which is to say the enforcement of the rules rather than the rules themselves.

                We here at OT have a vague commenting policy. It’s impossible to do otherwise. We enforce it as best we can, and as fairly as we can. With this same set of rules, though, we could start coming down pretty hard on some users unfairly. We might do it intentionally, we might just have a certain partisan drift in our mindset, or we might experience a self-reinforcing loop where once we start enforcing things in a particular direction we keep going.

                The more credible charge here is that one of those things happen. It is assumed to be the first, but my own experience in comment moderation makes me more likely to believe that it’s one of the latter two if it’s anything at all.

                But in any which case, the whole thing depends on the assumption of good will. That means that while Twitter doesn’t “owe” anybody an explanation, the absence of one is a legitimate thing on which people will come to their conclusions. Twitter knows this and does this anyway. Which may be the best thing to do. We at OT do not always release our work product in the determinations we make. But it is not without cost, and that cost does not go away by pointing out that we own the side and nothing is owed.Report

    • j r in reply to veronica d says:

      My response is always, look, if this is just “the culture war,” then what the fuck people? Like, which culture do you defend… In the culture war, our side is correct. The other side is a cesspool of racists, sexist, and violent shitheads. Reject them.

      This is what it comes down to for me: I’m not interested in defending either. I know enough about GamerGate to know that they are not what they present themselves to be. And I know enough about the anti-GamerGaters to know that they aren’t either.

      I don’t want to be on anyone’s team. Rather, I want to support a set of norms that allow for everyone to act on his or her own conscience, but that also allows for reasonable moderation. If Twitter bans someone for engaging in harassing behavior or facilitating illegal activity, I’ve got no problem. If Twitter bans someone for being insufficiently progressive in their Tweeting or for expressing outright odious ideas on other platforms, I become slightly concerned (and my concern about all of this is indeed slight). And not necessarily concerned about Twitter, but about the larger implications for norms around speech and expression.

      I don’t expect anyone to agree with this viewpoint, but can we at least stop pretending that it is somehow incoherent or in any way hyperbolic?Report

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