USAT: Twitter suspends alt-right accounts


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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42 Responses

  1. Avatar Will Truman says:

    Due to a glitch, comments on this post were turned off. Now, they are on.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    What could possibly go wrong?Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

      Kevin Drum pointed something out — out of all the fixes Twitter users were asking for, outright banning people wasn’t it.

      He put together a list, but the ones I remember:

      1. Blocking tweets with keywords you choose.
      2. Blocking twitter accounts.
      3. Blocking twitter accounts AND everyone that follows those accounts.
      4. Temporary blocks (timeouts) on accounts.
      5. Banning IP addresses (twitter bots are a huge problem).

      All of them are, if you notice, individual actions. Nobody is denied a platform, they’re just denied a listener — at the listener’s discretion.

      Just outright kicking people off? It probably makes business sense (it’s hard to sell Twitter if the KKK is there with follower mobs that spew antisemitic slurs and death threats) but it doesn’t really help the actual users.

      Sadly that fact doesn’t fit into the “Liberals are all PC police” viewpoint that is, of course, totally accurate in all respects.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Morat20 says:

        You know what? I love all of those except for #3. I’m irritated by #3. 1,2,4, and 5? Awesome. Magnificent.

        Had twitter done those, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

        Maybe some nutcase would be talking about people creating bubbles for themselves. But the individual *PERSON* would be the one creating that bubble. FOR THEMSELVES.

        Who isn’t madly in love with that idea?

        Well… apparently… @jack.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

          #3 is necessary because of twitter mobs.

          Having, oh, 10,000 people filling your feed with death threats and racial slurs? That’s a lot to block individually, especially when you know that, say, Vox Day (who is blocked) was urging his followers to do it.

          It makes Twitter useless for you. Which is pretty effective in shutting up people you don’t like. It’s much better, from the perspective of maximal freedom, to basically be allowed to stop listening to people rather than make them stop talking.

          Of course, if you’re familiar with UO in the pre-Trammel days, you’d also probably guess that for the people whipping up Twitter mobs — it’s the “shutting them up” that’s the dark joy.

          In any case, those were the most popular things Twitter’s users were asking for. I suspect Twitter itself simply banned those folks because they were devaluing it’s brand AND it was a simple fix, rather than putting any work in.

          As a matter of fact, a lot of people dealing with these real problems mostly use third party software to simulate it. They just wanted Twitter to do it natively — because, among other things, it was solving the problem (even if it required two or three other programs to do it) without impacting anyone’s ability to use Twitter.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Morat20 says:

        My lesson from past threads on bans is that the OT community (myself included) has a very poor understanding of how twitter harassment works and therefore probably doesn’t have a good idea of how to stop it.

        Last time around there was some consensus that twitter should be more forthcoming about what *specific* tweets people are being banned for. When Glenn Reynolds was temporarily banned, twitter did just that and notified him of the offending tweet, which ambiguously called for violence against protestors. Which he then reposted to his web-site. Which then evolved into the trending hashtag #RunThemDown, with thousands of users *unambiguously* calling for violence against protestors. Now imagine if the victim was a specific user rather than a protest event…

        As to Drum’s specific points:

        1 + 2 are already implemented. 3 is easily circumvented by unfollowing the organizer, tweeting/DM’ing your offending statement, and then re-following them. 4 is dealing with an unrelated issue (I want to listen to this person but not right now). 5 is much broader than most people imagine and probably too complicated to leave to individual users (why does half of Manhattan not see my tweets?).

        There’s an interesting phenomena in some hospitals where a huge percentage of ER visits will be recurring visits by a very small number of individuals. One solution is to try to figure out what’s in common between them and create an algorithm that predicts high-risk patients after one or two visits, puts them in a separate category with an entirely different protocol for doctors to administer. Another solution is to have a small crew of specialists make home visits, interview the recurrent patients, and figure out what’s going on individually. Oftentimes it will be something highly specific – lead in the paint, chemical exposure from the neighbors, broken elevator and bad stairs. It’s ad hoc, time consuming, relies on subjective human judgement, and typically works very well.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to trizzlor says:

          Best I can do to explain the problem is: Pretend that every post on OT you made attracted 10,000 people to comment, but they all made variations of the same comment. Which often were things like “Kill yourself” or various racial or religious slurs, or death threats.

          And that every time you MADE a comment, 10,000 people showed up to do the same thing.

          People wouldn’t hang around at OT anymore, even if they weren’t the targeted ones. Signal to noise ratio was too bad.Report

        • Avatar El Muneco in reply to trizzlor says:

          We like to think that comment threads here get as bad as things can get – vitriolic nightmares that shine a light on all the cracks in our society that keep us from being able to be civil with each other.
          Or Fred Clark’s blog. Or Charlie Stross’s. Or John Scalzi’s. Or Phil Platt’s. Or even Hemet Mehta’s.
          We’re kidding ourselves. The worst, most intransigent, most buttheaded commenters here are showing grandmotherly kindness to the community compared to what is out there – and the community to them.Report

  3. Avatar Will Truman says:

    This is a tough subject. My experiences at OT have given me an idea of how difficult such things are. It definitely seems like a shift to go from “Can’t harass” (which is hard to define, but fair in the main for sure) to “can’t express such-and-such viewpoint” unless those views expressed are violent.

    That they suspended Heather Boulware is inexplicable, and doesn’t breed confidence.

    Beyond that… meh, I understand what they’re doing and why. I operate on a wide band but such things have costs. If Twitter wasn’t willing to incur them, I’m okay with that.Report

  4. Avatar gregiank says:

    This is a tough one. I think ignoring all the threats that have happened over twitter is off base. Plenty of people report being threated and that deserves more response then just saying “free speech: and not a true threat. That is easy for the free speech advocate ( myself included) to say. But much less easy if you are the target. How to make this work, well that is another kettle of fish.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to gregiank says:

      This wasn’t about harassment, though. This was about having a bad worldview.Report

      • Avatar gregiank in reply to Will Truman says:

        Harassment from alt right types at various people has been an issue for a while.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to gregiank says:

          Shouldn’t be too hard to find verified public harassment from the specific people who were banned.

          Well, I mean, their accounts are locked now and all their tweets are hidden, but you know what I mean.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to gregiank says:

          Yes, but this wasn’t that.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to gregiank says:

          I dunno how to tease out all these distinctions but it’s increasingly apparent to me that liberals are on the losing side of these debates, both politically as well as rationally.

          But I’ve never been a fan of PCism, so I’m one of those folks who’d rather hear someone say how they really feel than have to guess based on the type of beer they drink.Report

          • Avatar gregiank in reply to Stillwater says:

            There is plenty of merit to hearing the alt right hate and at least knowing what is going on. However there was a lot of harassment and i think that is a real issue. I dont’ have a great answer for all this. More voices is great when some of those voices threaten that ain’t so grand. Regarding their opinions that isn’t a valid reason to kick them off other than the twitter is a private company thing.Report

  5. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    So this is yet another example of:

    1) Cultural-right individuals accuse cultural-left institution of doing something
    2) Cultural-left institution management gets mad and does the thing
    3) This is perceived as a victory for the cultural-left institution, which showed us all that cultural-right individuals can’t push it aroundReport

  6. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Have you read the stuff by Adam Silverman over Balloon Juice where he talks about how terrorists work to destroy the “gray Zone” that civil shared space where we meet and interact as citizens?

    The alt-rightists are working to do that in social media.They are forcing these very hard decisions, because most of our social norms presume people acting in good faith within a certain set of parameters.

    If my “point of view” is that the Jews should be gassed, then those norms and the gray zone blows up and civil dialogue becomes impossible.

    Because as much as we love to talk about how all points of view are welcomed, that has never been true.

    Social and political norms have always held certain ideas taboo or sacred, off limits and out of bounds for debate.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      “Social and political norms have always held certain ideas taboo or sacred, off limits and out of bounds for debate.”

      Like eating cats.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      It’s not just that — even without bots, it doesn’t take that many people to render Twitter unusable to anyone you dislike. You just need a sufficient number of followers.

      Part of the problem facing Twitter is while they technically have an infinite space for people to talk, the mechanics still allow people to not only effectively be shouted down, but driven from the space entirely because they can neither talk nor listen, as everything is drowned out by the mob (which is like one guy and a few thousand bored followers. Or one guy and a lot of bots).

      That doesn’t even get into the death threats, rape threats, doxing, and other vile parts of a harassment mob.

      I do wonder what prominent Republican pundits (the whole gang at NR, Erik Erricson, etc) will do going forward, having finally gotten to experience the joy of death threats, antisemitic and racial slurs, and the like this cycle? Cynically, I think it will go down the memory hole.Report

  7. Avatar greginak says:

    Just pondering here since i’m not even on twitter, i get all my twitter from the OT feed thingee. But i know some reddit subs feel they have lost a lot of subscribers due to Reddit getting the rep as the place where racists go. One great history subreddit, Ask Historians, said some subR’s have lost up to 25% due to that. So Reddit is very sensitive to being seen as a racist home. Twitter may be wanting to make a strong statement that they aren’t that racist, abusive place some in the public think they are.

    Side note, if you like history you got to download some of the AskHistorians podcast, seriously, long deep in depth discussions of all sorts of aspects of history. Go there now.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Want a glimpse of the genie they’re trying to put back in the bottle?

    It’s visible at Vox, of all places.Report

  9. Avatar notme says:

    ‘We are the free speech wing of the free speech party’Report