Last week, Twitter suspended Rose McGowan’s account because, according to Twitter, she violated TOS.
The problems here are so familiar to anyone who has been harassed or threatened on Twitter. The rules are applied discriminately and by Twitter’s own admission, suspended if the person tweeting is “newsworthy” or more specifically Donald J. Trump.
We’re putting significant effort into increasing our transparency as a company, and commit to meaningful and fast progress. Will do better. https://t.co/g1Rvkaj2sl(Continued Below)
— jack (@jack) September 25, 2017
In real terms, Twitter has eventually gotten around to suspending people who violate TOS as often as they breathe. Todd Kincannon, the former head of South Carolina’s Republican party violated Twitter’s TOS on a regular basis for years before Twitter finally suspended the account.
As Vox pointed out, the Rose McGowan suspension “epitomizes the site’s most infuriating problem.”
Twitter may very well have suspended McGowan’s account because one of her tweets included a personal phone number. That’s a minor infraction that occurred once compared to TOS violations that have gone on for years with impunity.
It’s because of this that Trump can retweet white supremacists without consequences. It’s why the tweeps who harassed and threatened Chris Suprun after he announced he would not cast his electoral college vote for Donald J.Trump did so with impunity.
While that was a different kind of harassment, the point is, threatening people is “okay” if the person doing the threatening is a prominent State Republican or Donald Trump. It can go on for years. If your tweet isn’t newsworthy, but you’re backing Donald Trump, you also have impunity as Chris Suprun found out.
At this point, I’d like to share what Christopher Suprun told me via email in response to the idea that if your tweet is “newsworthy” the rules don’t apply to you.
“Twitter needs to figure out who and what they are and what their rules are day to day. I love America because of the rule of law; it’s too bad Twitter has an Animal Farm rule system where some users are more equal than others when it comes to Twitter TOS violations.”
The harassment of Caroline O came when she recounted her step mother’s story about Trump’s reaction when she rejected his advances at a Miss USA pageant. They are worse than what Chris Suprun experienced but all too familiar to too many women on Twitter.
5/2016: I retold my stepmom's story of how Trump flew into a rage when she rejected his advances at a Miss USA pageant
The responses I got👇 pic.twitter.com/EnnAzOfdXO
— Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) October 14, 2017
— Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) October 14, 2017
For years, the unwritten rule for women when it came to sexual harassment is don’t bother to report it, because Twitter won’t do anything. Gee, where have we heard this before? In the workplace, in school, in Hollywood, in DC, in small-town America.
Sure, there are defensive tactics, like blocking harassers or filtering the sort of words that tend to be used by misogynists. But the fact remains, Twitter’s inconsistent application of the rules enables misogynists, the misogynist in chief, Donald Trump and Russian bots Twitter chose sides in the larger political debate.
I’m not the only Twitter user who has noticed the political bias inherent in Twitter’s selective enforcement of its TOS.
See this tweet from John Fugelsang:
— John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) October 17, 2017
And as Adam Parkhomenko suggested in a tweet, Twitter’s animal farm enforcement of its TOS has the appearance of political bias.
If you are @rosemcgowan, Twitter will shut your account down, but if you are thousands of Russian bots supporting GOP in Alabama, forget it.
— Adam Parkhomenko (@AdamParkhomenko) October 17, 2017
I’m also not suggesting there is an easy fix. As Caroline O pointed out in a thread, there are a few issues in Twitter’s application of its rules.
1. @Twitter can’t stop every incident of harassment or threatening behavior. But they *can* learn from the incidents they don’t stop.
2. One of the problems with @Twitter’s current policies is that users/accounts are largely viewed in isolation, not as part of a network.
3. But much (most?) online harassment is not just the action of an individual – it’s the actions of a network of people working together.
4. Let’s say you have 20 accounts harassing 1 user. Maybe only 2 of those accounts explicitly violate Twitter’s terms of service…
5. So the other 18 accounts are engaging in coordinated harassment, but not explicitly threatening/doxxing the targeted user.
The irony is this approach would also work on Twitter’s other problem, namely Russian bots that have been working to Donald Trump’s advantage since the 2016 campaign.
No one is suggesting this is an easy task, but the fact remains that the combination of Twitter’s Animal Farm version of its TOS and the Russian trolls tells Twitter users the rules only apply to opponents of a right-wing agenda that includes misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, Homophobia, and intolerance of political dissent.
By taking consistent action, regardless of the newsworthiness of the serial TOS violator, Twitter would enhance its credibility with its users who don’t have sinister purposes for using the platform while also removing a mechanism for Vladimir Putin and his bots to wreak havoc on America.
Twitter’s claim about the newsworthiness of the tweet sounds like just another excuse to enable sexual harassment, racism, political coercion while punishing people who don’t have sinister motives for using the platform. That’s especially true when you consider the examples of Rose McGowan and Donald Trump.
Sexual harassment was a big news story at the time Twitter suspended McGowan’s account for a one-time violation at the time she was, in fact, part of a major news story, albeit about what sexual predator Harvey Weinstein did to her when she was a younger, up and coming actress. I’ll grant that under any calculus sexual harassment is less consequential to the world then say tweeting us into World War III. But given that Trump supporters who didn’t tweet anything newsworthy at Christopher Suprun, newsworthiness was not the issue.
Donald Trump has a lengthy resume of harassing, coercing and bullying people be it with lawyers, through friendly media outlets or a twitter handle.
Trump’s resume on Twitter includes, but is not limited to: harassing Gold Star families, attacking dying war heroes and others in Congress who know that Congress is not subordinate to the Executive. Trump has repeatedly tweeted hate messages about Muslims, Puerto Ricans, and woman who stand up to him. He even threatened Trump University plaintiffs with Twitter harassment during a rally.
He has his “army” of cyber soldiers who weren’t above threatening an Electoral College elector. While the threats didn’t alter the results of the Electoral College vote, this is not okay. Threatening people as a means of swaying their votes is in itself a threat to American values.
When you combine that with the role of Russian bots on social media in general, and Twitter in particular, one has to wonder how much coordination there was between the Trump campaign and Russia on the whole bot operation that includes spreading fake news and likely violations of Twitter’s TOS. Robert Mueller and the Congressional committees may be looking at this angle. It seems only appropriate and in Twitter’s interest that it does something to apply its TOS in a manner more consistent with America’s rule of law than that of Animal Farm or Putin’s Russia.