Kicking Trolls Off Of Twitter Isn't A Violation Of Free Speech
The saga of actress Leslie Jones and this guy, Milos Yiannopoulos.
BY LUKE O'NEIL | Jul 21, 2016 | Culture
On Tuesday it was announced that Twitter had banned Breitbart's Milo Yiannopoulos for good. It was a step that has been a long time coming, as Yiannopoulos, an infamous troll who's risen to the top of the kiddie pool of talent on the so-called "alt-right"—a Pied Piper at the intersection of white supremacists and video-game fetishists—has been one of the more consistently terrible, and terribly consistent harassers on a platform overflowing with them. The ban came after a concerted effort he led to harass Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones with a deluge of vile, racist invective that drove her off the site herself.
"I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart," Jones tweeted. "All this cause I did a movie. You can hate the movie but the shit I got today. Wrong." And then: "I feel like I'm in a personal hell. I didn't do anything to deserve this. It's just too much. It shouldn't be like this. So hurt right now."
As a public relations move, the lifetime ban seems like a good, if ultimately feeble one on Twitter's part. In the million-barking-mouthed hydra of the Twitterverse, cutting off one of the heads does little to address the actual root of the problem. For all of its speed and intimacy and downright usefulness in breaking news, Twitter is, if nothing else, an exceptionally efficient and brutal tool for harassment. And without any meaningful steps to address that reality, the removal of one user will do nothing to solve the problem.
"I feel like I'm in a personal hell. I didn't do anything to deserve this. It's just too much," Jones tweeted.
Users have been pleading with Twitter to do something about it for years now, particularly women in the media and the public eye, who suffer an inordinate amount of abuse there.
Abuse on Twitter is different, however, than in the comment section of an article or in a private email, in that it's a public forum that not only enables, but actively incentivises abuse—we wouldn't even know who Yiannopoulos was, until recently an obscure and unremarkable U.K.-based blogger, if he hadn't become so adept at gaming Twitter's baked-in, shithead level-up power. As in the case of Jones, the abuse became a sort of avalanche, picking up all manner of dirt and filth and detritus as it rolled downhill. The nature of Twitter, in which users are encouraged to act performatively, means that many pile on for no other reason than to show off.
None of this behaviour is technically allowed in the first place on Twitter, but getting the company to pay attention has been a Sisyphean endeavour. In April, they made it possible to flag multiple tweets at once in their reporting system. Prior to that they launched a Safety Council, the purpose of which no one really seems to understand beyond vague declarations like "Working together, we will ensure Twitter is a platform where anyone, anywhere can express themselves safely and confidently.”
In recent months I've tried reporting tweets that I consider to be abusive, with little success. Apparently being sent pictures of a bed full of guns while being called homophobic slurs doesn't violate the terms of service. It's a wonder Twitter has trouble attracting and retaining users.
Following the Jones incident, the company released the following statement:
Yiannopoulos and his supporters claim that the harassment is emblematic of the diverse opinions and beliefs championed by Twitter. They have already framed this as an issue of freedom of speech, and the #freemilo hashtag is currently trending. But freedom of speech clearly does not apply here. He hasn't been silenced by the government—in fact, he still has plenty of other outlets to express his opinions on the web and elsewhere. Instead, this is an example of one company deciding—finally—they won't tolerate this type of behaviour anymore.
From: Esquire US.