In the wake of a brutal election, which saw memes turn into hate symbols and the vicious power of internet anonymity rear its full and ugly head, technology companies like Google and Facebook have rushed to make reasonable platform changes, to avoid alienating their audiences and to re-weight truth over lies.
Unlike those services, Twitter took a more direct approach, by cancelling the accounts of a half dozen of America’s prominent
alt-right KKK-affiliated white supremacists for hate speech. It’s an attempt by Twitter to appease millions of users who have been complaining about being harassed with hate speech on the service during this election. The USA Today reports:
From Tuesday’s suspensions, it’s clear that Twitter is cracking down on accounts that it decides are in violation of the company’s rules which ban hateful conduct. It has done a mass ban before. It removed 125,000 accounts linked to ISIL between mid-2015 and February 2016.
Twitter on Tuesday removed Spencer’s verified account, @RichardBSpencer, that of his think tank, the National Policy Institute @npiamerica, and his online magazine @radixjournal.
In a statement, Twitter said: “The Twitter Rules prohibit targeted abuse and harassment, and we will suspend accounts that violate this policy.” It declined to comment specifically on the suspensions, which included the accounts of Paul Town, Pax Dickinson, Ricky Vaughn and John Rivers.
Twitter also unveiled a sweeping change to its platform, giving users new tools to mute unwanted content by word or phrase. Currently, users can face targeted harassment on the service, requiring a manual deletion or blocking of dozens, hundreds or thousands of deletions to view chat notifications.
Notably, there is no legal right to tweet, as First Amendment free speech rights involve public speech, but Twitter while providing a platform to reach the public, is itself a private service. When a user clicks their legal agreement it creates a contract between the user and the social media service. The USA Today spoke with a law professor who has expertise in social media issues:
As a private company, Twitter has no obligation to provide a forum for white nationalist views and “can do what it wants,” said James Grimmelmann, a law professor who studies social networks at Cornell University.
“The case for saying Twitter ought to leave these accounts up is that free speech has purposes and those purposes would be served by having private companies be compelled to be more neutral platforms,” Grimmelmann said. “This is not a constituency in imminent danger of having its viewpoints shut down by the powers that be in the United States. We just had an election that proved that there are really ample chances for people espousing strong right-wing racist views to get their views heard.”
The racists swept off of Twitter bitterly complained about their plight, despite being booted from Twitter for the same reason that ISIS accounts are immediately shut down as they are discovered. Ultimately, many of them pledge to start new accounts in violation of Twitter’s terms of service and claim that banning them will only make more people follow them.
Sadly, these don’t understand that most people – especially their targets – have little interest following their racist screeds, and more interest in being free from harassment by hate speech for their religion, ethnicity, or heritage.
That’s what Twitter is betting on, because they can’t afford to alienate the 73% of Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton or did not vote in last week’s election, just to please the hardest core white nationalist crowd of Trump’s 26% of eligible voters nationally.
Grant Stern is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and a senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition