Milo Yiannopoulos Got Permanent Suspended on Twitter. Is it a Sign of Changing Times?
On Tuesday, Twitter suspended conservative writer, GamerGate advocate and troll, Milo Yiannopulous, after leading the charge against Ghostbusters actress and comedian Leslie Jones. Jones quit the social media platform Monday, after being hit with a barrage of racist, sexist harassment in the wake of the new film’s release. Harassing tweets included threats, racist slurs and homophobic screen caps of tweets made to look as though Jones had shared them.
Writer and blogger Marissa Rei #LoveforLeslieJ to show appreciation and support for the star. It took off and even trended briefly, with both celebrities, fans and average Twitter users supporting Jones.
Paul Feig, director of the new film used the hashtag to show support for Jones.
Others called out Twitter’s consistently lacklustre approach to harassment and user safety, pointing out that black women especially have been victims of harassment campaigns on the social media platform. The harassment Jones faced was not just random haters and rude people, but a concerted hate campaign of a kind that has been all too common on Twitter for years. GamerGate was one of the more famous and wide-ranging of these, but brigading — the in concert, focused harassment of one or a handful of targets — has been used by trolls to target marginalized people, famous and not, for years. And Yiannopoulous has leveraged his Twitter followers and his spot on the Breitbart editorial team to lead more than one such campaign. And while many are celebrating his removal from the platform, as Leigh Alexander points out in the Guardian, unless his ban is a sign of things to come, it does little to make Twitter safer for users and has the potential to make Yiannopoulous, in some eyes, a martyr for free speech.
Yiannopoulous told his employer, Breitbart, that the suspension was politically motivated, and gave interviews in a bulletproof vest, claiming his life had been threatened.
“With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.
Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left. Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?
Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.
This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was quick to publicly reach out to Leslie Jones after she announced she would be leaving the site, but Twitter on the whole has been slow to respond to harassment campaigns. Yiannopoulous — and innumerable others — have been using Twitter to troll and harass for years. Yiannopoulous was banned for posting screen caps of those fake tweets, not for his other harassing tweets — this is a clear violation of Twitter’s TOS, and one that doesn’t require a detailed report to be acted on. In contrast, it’s much harder to get Twitter to take seriously verbal harassment and veiled death threats, and the reporting process is quite involved.
Targets of GamerGate and other harassment campaigns have long decried Twitter’s hands off approach, arguing that its unwillingness to act enables abuse. Tech Writer and owner of Model View Culture Shanley Kane says that Twitter doesn’t stop harassment campaigns because they increase user engagement and new user registration.
While I don’t think Twitter deliberately ignores harassment campaigns in order to reap financial benefits, it is clearly true that when it does act to curb user harassment, it’s when their bottom line or their reputation is threatened. Twitter created its Trust and Safety Council after a series of stories about harassment on the platform overcame the narrative Twitter wanted to push, that of a dynamic, growing and deeply engaging, open network. But we’ve heard little from the Council since. And in the meantime, Twitter has been much quicker to step in when celebrities or other public figures have been harmed by harassment campaigns; much slower to protect ordinary users.
Is Yiannopoulous’ a permanent suspension a sign that things are finally changing at Twitter? It’s possible — but Twitter will only be motivated to make substantive changes, which could cost significant time and resources to implement, should the story of Twitter continue to be so dominated by its failure to sufficiently address harassment.