I don’t want this to become a “drama site,” so I won’t post more than this on the Ghostbusters/Leslie Jones/Milo kerfuffle. Besides, I want to write about honeyguides. But I want to note that, in view of new information, I’ve changed my mind about the injustice of giving Milo Yiannopoulos a life sentence in Twitter Jail.
I still decry the double standards that Twitter (and Facebook) apparently have when it comes to banning people, but more on that in a second. Yesterday I discussed the opprobrium, racism, and sexism heaped on actor Leslie Jones by many people on Twitter, including Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. Milo was subsequently banned for life by Twitter. My opinion was that while his tweets were reprehensible—and surely violated the poorly enforced standards of Twitter (they really need to give more concrete explanations for banning)—he should not have been banned.
I agree, of course, that Twitter has the right to set its own standards. That was not the issue. The issue was what sort of standards should they have, given that they have in effect a monopoly on global Internet conversation. I suggested that Twitter should abide by the U.S.’s free-speech standards, whereby only speech that poses a threat of immediate violence (or legally constitutes slander or libel) should be banned. If it’s a problem that other countries have “hate speech” laws, like Germany and Canada, then headquarter Twitter in the U.S. After all, I’m not subject to other countries’ speech laws on this website, as I write form America.
Many readers agreed with me; others didn’t. Nearly all agreed, though, that Milo is not just a provocateur, but a troll, and that his politics are reprehensible. But of course free speech is in the Constitution precisely to prevent the censorship of those whose speech is deemed reprehensible.
Now, however, information has come to my attention suggesting that Yiannopoulos committed a more serious misstep. (Others suggested this in the comments yesterday, but I had to verify it.) In a piece at allthink.com, “The trouble with Milo,” Cathy Young, once an ally of Milo in conservative activism, says he’s “crossed the line” by tweeting bogus tweets that came from Jones, and did so knowingly. First, here are the two counterfeit tweets from Jones passed along by Yiannopoulos, and then retweeted by others 600 times (click to enlarge):
That these were bogus tweets from Jones should have been obvious by the absence of the “verification” checkmark issued by Twitter. Indeed, they are so far out of character for Jones—especially the “goddam kikes” tweet—that they’re clearly fake. And, indeed, Yiannopoulos wryly suggested he knew that:
And Breibart tried to make light of this; as Young writes:
Breitbart has attempted to excuse this by claiming there was no attempt to pass the screenshots off as real tweets from Jones, since their fakeness was “made clear with the lack of a verification check mark.” Yet some people who responded to Milo thought the tweets were real. So did someone who tweeted at me after Milo’s ban.
Sorry, but game over. By knowingly disseminating fake tweets, and tweets that were made to look horrible, Yiannopolous was guilty of impersonating another user. So yes, he should have been banned for that.
Should the ban be permanent? I say “no.” Give him another chance, and if he continues to do stuff like this, ban him for good. Free speech is one thing, this form of slander is another.
But, as Young emphasizes, the bigger problem remains: what kind of speech should be banned on Twitter? And my opinion, given above and yesterday, remains. Like me, Young has valid concerns that Twitter bans only those holding certain political views:
Even if Milo fully deserved to get banned, there is little doubt that Twitter’s management has double standards favoring “marginalized people” and the Social Justice left.
For instance: while I hold Breitbart in pretty low regard, this account of a black Breitbart reporter being repeatedly attacked as a “coon” on Twitter at the instigation of rapper Talib Kweli (who has over a million Twitter followers, more than three times Milo’s follower count at the time of his ban) certainly seems to meet Twitter’s criteria for “targeted abuse.” Will Twitter take action? I’m not holding my breath. Likewise, Breitbart seems to have a pretty good case with regard to Twitter ignoring calls for deadly violence against cops from Black Twitter, even though Twitter rules clearly prohibit promoting violence.
Or take another example. A number of people have said that Twitter’s intervention to help Leslie Jones makes good practical sense, since many Twitter users are interested in interacting with celebrities and having celebrities driven off Twitter by hate is bad for business. Fine. But where was the concern when filmmaker Joss Whedon quit Twitter after a deluge of hate over alleged misogyny in Avengers: Age of Ultron, or when British comedian Stephen Fry deleted his account after being bashed for jokes some saw as offensive to women and transgender people? (Trans activists on Twitter are notorious for ripping people to shreds for the pettiest transgressions; a few months before his departure from Twitter, Whedon was savaged for a “transphobic” joke which suggested that requirements for a female character include not having male genitalia.)
Nor one did anyone lament the “silencing” when technology entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa announced his decision to step away from advocacy for women in tech because of social media attacks from feminists who accused him of using women for self-promotion. In fact, one of the people who led the charge against Wadhwa, programmer and women-in-tech advocate Randi Harper, is an “anti-harassment advocate” who has the ear of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Harper, who has a habit of telling people to “set themselves on fire” if they cross her, has been accused of being a social media bully herself; two mainstream liberal journalists have told me that they agree with this characterization but would not go on the record to criticize Harper.
Harper’s cozy relationship with Twitter management points to another problem. Twitter’s (and, generally, the social media’s) anti-harassment initiatives have a close relationship with “social justice” activists who act as partners and consultants on these efforts. The problem is not just that this compromises the appearance of neutrality. It’s that, as I pointed out in the New York Observer earlier this year, these activists are anti-neutrality in principle: they not only tend to equate “safety” with protection from “oppressive” speech but openly support double standards that favor the “marginalized” over the “privileged.”
I won’t belabor you with lots of examples; you can read Young’s piece yourself. But here’s one final example I found of people spewing hate on Twitter who aren’t banned at all. Those are the people celebrating the honor killing of Pakistani actor/singer/activist Qandeel Baloch. Have a look at what some people said, as sussed out and passed along by Rita Panahi, an Iranian-Australian columnist:
There’s more. Let me enlarge them for you:
In case you think I’m asking for these shameful creatures to be banned, I’m not. Their sentiments are beyond civilized discourse, but they should still be able to say what they want. That way, at least, we can see them for the jerks they are.