How Twitter Suspended The Account Of One Of Our Commenters… For Offending Himself?

from the come-on,-jack dept

If you spend any time at all in Techdirt’s comments, you should be familiar with That Anonymous Coward. He’s a prolific and regular commenter (with strong opinions). He also spends a lot of time on Twitter. Well, at least until a week or so ago when Twitter suspended his account. It’s no secret that Twitter has been getting a lot of pressure from people to be more proactive in shutting down and cutting off certain accounts. There are even a bunch of people who claim that Twitter should suspend the President’s account — though we think that would be a really bad idea.

As we’ve pointed out in the past, people who demand that sites shut down and suspend accounts often don’t realize how difficult it is to do this at scale and not fuck up over and over again. Indeed, we have plenty of stories about sites having trouble figuring out what content is really problematic. Indeed, frequently these stories show that the targets of trolls and abusers are the ones who end up suspended.

You can read TAC’s open letter to Jack Dorsey, which also includes an account of what happened. In short, over a year ago, TAC responded to something Ken “Popehat” White had tweeted, and referred to himself — a gay man — as “a faggot.” Obviously, many people consider this word offensive. But it’s quite obvious from how it was used here that this was a situation of someone using the word to refer to himself and to reclaim the slur.

Twitter then demanded that he delete the tweet and “verify” his phone number. TAC refused both requests. First, it was silly to delete the tweet because it’s clearly not “hateful content” given the context. Second, as someone who’s whole point is being “Anonymous” giving up his phone number doesn’t make much sense. And, as he notes in his open letter, people have tried to sue him in the past. There’s a reason he stays pseudononymous:

Why do I have to supply a cell phone number to get back on the platform? I’ve been a user for 5 years and have never used a cell phone to access your service. I am a nym, but I am an established nym. I own the identity & amazingly there are several hundred people following my nym. I interact with the famous & infamous, they tweet back to me sometimes. I survived a few lawsuits trying to get my real name from platforms, because I called Copyright Trolls extortionists… they were offended & tried to silence me with fear of lawsuits. I’m still a nym, they’ve been indicted by the feds. There are other Copyright Trolls who dislike me, so staying a nym is in my best interest.

TAC also points out the general inconsistencies in Twitter’s enforcement, noting that other slurs are not policed, and even the slur that caused his account to be shut down (over a year after he used it) did not lead to other accounts facing the same issues.

Incredibly, TAC points out that he appealed the suspension… and Twitter trust and safety rejected the appeal. It was only on the second appeal — and seven days later — that Twitter recognized its mistake and restored his account.

Now, some may be quick to blame Twitter for this mess, but it again seems worth pointing out what an impossible situation this is. Platforms like Twitter are under tremendous pressure to moderate out “bad” content. But people have very little understanding of two important things: (1) the scale at which these platforms operate, and (2) how difficult it is to determine what’s “bad” — especially without full context. The only way to handle reports and complaints at scale is to either automate the process, hire a ton of people, or both. And no matter which choice you make, serious mistakes are going to be made. AI is notoriously bad at understanding context. People are under pressure to go through a lot of content very quickly to make quick judgments — which also doesn’t bode well for understanding context.

So, once again, we should be pretty careful what we ask for when we demand that sites be quicker about shutting down and suspending accounts. You might be surprised who actually has their accounts shut down. That’s not to say sites should never suspend accounts, but the rush to pressure companies into doing so represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how such demands will be handled. TAC’s week-long forced sabbatical is just a small example of those unintended consequences.

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Comments on “How Twitter Suspended The Account Of One Of Our Commenters… For Offending Himself?”

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90 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Don't Care

“Platforms like Twitter are under tremendous pressure to moderate out “bad” content.”

The moment you make the claim that you want to stop “hate” then you just took on that mantle of defeating hate with your only consolation prize becoming a platform of what you seek to stop. Why? Because that now become what you are, and what you are talked about.

It is not possible to say or do anything without risking it being hateful… and people who can’t recognize that deserve all the hate they get.

Twitter made itself into a platform of hate, one that seeks to marginalize one group to the benefit of another. The more you try to silence them… the louder they get!

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Don't Care

The easiest solution is to make people use the tools they have been given.

Dislike a word? Filter it.
Think that users a tool? Block them.

Reporting shouldn’t be a weapon, it should be more like 911 when something serious is happening… not because McD’s is out of fscking nuggets.

Because everyone has a different level of comfort its impossible to have a single approach, and in trying to do it you just piss both sides off a bit more each time.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Mike, thank you for covering this.

I was beyond angry, but I knew screaming would get me no where. I wish I had saved the text of the first appeal, because I’m pretty sure I went deep into the I asked myself if calling myself faggot offended me and I told myself it didn’t so what was the problem.

Finding out after the fact that this was the work of people trying to “win” some sort of twitter war, that even in the most generous history of I am nearly completely uninvolved in. (I think a couple times when someone retweet stupid shit they said I might have inquired who they paid to remind them to breathe.)
But this braintrust decided I was someone else…
These aren’t the first morons to do this, I doubt they will be the last cause I have a tendency to mock stupid when I see it.

In my history I’ve been accused of being…
7 lawyers, a woman, 3 other twitter people…
Now I get I’m a mysterious nym, but I’ve always been truthful… I don’t have a JD (I’m just smarter than stupid lawyers), I’m the gay one, and I only use a single nym when I comment on things.
I’m TAC on TD, Ars, Boingboing, WordPress, Popehat, Twitter, and other places I am sure I am forgetting. TAC was a topic specific nym that grew into something more. I don’t need alts or sock puppets to do what I do, its hard enough keeping up with being me.

The single “good” thing that came out of this is seeing how dependent I am on Twitter for social contact. The last couple of days on my exile were getting very rough for me, anyone whos followed me on Twitter knows that I’m on an anti-depressant to deal with my depression & anxiety. Being cut off from my social circles went over the top of any of the relief the drugs give me. It’s not a feeling I want to experience again.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

It really is a dilemma: the social networks are big, unwieldy, and run by people who don’t have your best interests in mind. But they’re also where the people are. Small community messageboards and personal blogs have declined, and distributed/FOSS platforms attempting to duplicate the functionality of Twitter, Facebook, et al have failed to grow outside a niche community of enthusiasts.

I don’t know what the best solution is for you; everybody’s different and I wouldn’t presume to tell you what to do.

The solution for me is, I never signed up for a social network after MySpace. No Twitter, no Facebook; I’ve got a blog I don’t update much, and a messageboard and a handful of comments sections where I’m a regular. It works for me, mostly, though that messageboard has sure gotten quiet as people have migrated to Twitter and other similar platforms.

Best of luck and glad you got your account back.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problem is the same with security theatre.
They promise they can keep you from being offended, it’s not possible.

Twitter has 2 amazing tools but seems to refuse to make people use them.
Filter – if you hate some words, you never have to see them again.
Block – This person is an ass & you never want to see anything they say.

The problem is the sporting event of letting people score points by forcing others off the platform.

A group of people reported my tweet from a year ago & no one cared to look until I made it clear I was not backing down. I don’t get to know if there is any sort of punishment for them doing this, but they got to celebrate taking me out.

If Twitter stopped trying to be the parent & told people to use the tools they have things would get better. Me saying faggot bothers you?? Why don’t you have the word filtered, why haven’t you blocked me, why did you have to troll my timeline back a YEAR to find something to be offended by? They sought me out & then punished me for something that fit the “rules” of winning a report takedown.

I don’t FB, I twitter a lot. I have a community I feel a part of, I speak my mind & I even chat with people who say things I disagree with. I’ve blocked a few people but those are the ones that barged into my TL to spew crap & rather than give them a cookie for pissing me off by responding… I blocked and moved on. To many people are slamming the lever to get a point & being rewarded.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No they are personal word filters…
If you find my use of faggot offensive you never have to see it, there is then no reason to up the ante by reporting me. Your personal offense to my tweets doesn’t rise to the level of needing to silence me.

Amazingly I’ve used faggot more lately than I have in like the last 5 years.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Filter – if you hate some words, you never have to see them again.
Block – This person is an ass & you never want to see anything they say.

But those are not tools that will be used by those who have to have something to hate, and cannot stand the idea it might be going on out of their site. The only tools acceptable to those people is removal of the content and silencing of the source. They are also the people who make a lot of noise about what offends them, and that gives them much more power over society than quietly avoiding the offensive.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Indeed. I follow historian Mike Stuchberry on Twitter and have explained to him on a number of occasions that making a point of getting even the most egregious Nazis banned could come back to haunt him one day.

So one day he recommends to women that they punch a certain individual and to nobody’s surprise he gets reported.

Giving anyone the power to shut down speech on the grounds that they find it offensive is a bad idea because it can easily be turned against the very people it was supposed to protect. Better to block and ignore than to go on crusade to shut people up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

You’re probably wasting your time trying to talk sense to such people, because as all social media/blogger pundits with a Patreon account are well aware, the more radical he gets, the more famous he becomes and the faster his tip jar fills up. It’s a fine line between earning maximum income and becoming a banned outcast, as people like Milo Yiannopoulos have discovered (BTW, Milo has all but admitted that his whole schtick was just an act to provoke, which was sadly not obvious to the many gullible people on both sides of the current culture war who couldn’t spot a troll if their lives depended on it)

David says:

Re: Re:

I was beyond angry, but I knew screaming would get me no where. I wish I had saved the text of the first appeal, because I’m pretty sure I went deep into the I asked myself if calling myself faggot offended me and I told myself it didn’t so what was the problem.

The problem with "hate speech" is that it’s infectuous. First people’s attention span is too short to realize that you are actually talking about yourself here. Second it takes a bout of analysis (many people are not capable of particularly in a "dehumanized" medium like forums) that you are not actually indulging in self-hatred here (hear some religious far-right women talk about, well, women for example) that works particularly destructively since there is an implied condonement involved.

I mean, if you don’t want to have people call others "niggers" in a derogatory manner, how are you going to deal with themselves addressing one another as "niggahz"?

Are you going to draw a fine line at different spelling when the similarity is intended?

How if you had chosen to call yourself a "faggod"?

"Turnabout is fair play" and all that, but it’s still pretty much the same, isn’t it? If you want to make somewhat reliable rules, there is little doubt that they will often apply to what is intentionally similar.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The main crux that that the platform can’t make reliable rules about what offends each person.

Rather than rushing in with suspensions & demanding tweets be deleted, they need to stop playing the savior role.

If the F word offends them, there is a filter they could use.
But Twitter has given into the they should be silenced for hate speech crowd.

We’ve given in to the idea that no one should ever be offended by something they see, and this isn’t a way to have a society.

For me, people who didn’t follow me went hunting for a tweet to report… it was over a year old. They didn’t care I called myself the F word, they wanted me silenced (b/c they thought I was someone else b/c they are very stupid).

They might have done better finding my tweets about infecting Congress with the marburg virus, but the F word gets a rise out of people terrified that they will be called non-saviors of teh gays.

If I am walking down the street and Westboro is protesting, I can’t force the powers that be to silence them, my options are to ignore them and move on or maybe try to counter protest. If I am truly shaken I might even track their announced protests so I don’t run into them.

Just b/c we can get Twitter to silence people for “crimes” doesn’t mean we should, especially since these “crimes” are subjective. The technology exists, but is prone to abuse.

Dislike a word, filter it… someone works around that & it bothers you ignore them. Don’t give into the ‘ha ha ha I got you suspended so I am winning’ mentality.

Anonymous Coward says:

the coddled "safe space" crybaby generation

Twitter seems to be on a perpetual mission-creep trying to keep every person in every designated “marginalized group” from ever getting their feelings hurt because someone uttered a naughty word or expressed a thought that someone took offense to — not a personal attack, but just an opinion about some controversial topic. It never ceases to amaze me just how thin-skinned people are these days — and the lengths that companies will go to coddling them. And no matter how bad it seems at any given time, the next year always promises to be even worse.

Twitter seems to be the most draconian of the soclal media sites, and by many things Jack Dorsey has said, this was no accident.
If Jack Dorsey wants to make Twitter a giant “safe space” for the thin skinned, that’s his right. He might not realize though, that safe-space nirvana can never be attained, despite massive and never ending purges, because these coddled adult-children will always find something else to get upset about when they know that crying and wailing always gets them whatever they want.

Anonymous Coward says:

This article reads like “Yes, Twitter has had years and years and billions of dollars in money to work on stuff like this and perpetually failed, but we’re going to deflect to same handful of talking points about how huge social media sites are and how context is hard.”

Riot Games had the same problem a while back when a player got accidentally banned for denigrating themselves in the third person. They managed to incorporate that incident into their system to make in-game chat less toxic, and the issue is presumably fixed. League Of Legends has millions of players all around the world. Not as many millions as Twitter has users, but I figure that once you get to the multi-million global level, a lot of the “How do you deal with this in a userbase of X scale?” problems start to even out in the way that they’re solved.

What the hell has taken Twitter so long to figure out their own context-sensitive stuff?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The tweet was over a year old, it shouldn’t have raised a single eyebrow.
The tweet was amazingly clear about whom was calling whom a faggot.
Blowing off my first appeal by claiming I was violating the rule about directing hatred towards others, when I clearly pointed out that I was using the word towards only myself was stupid.

They have created a system that gives into people who game it to win points in their head, trying to have a single perfect system where no one ever sees a bad word.

Twitters problems are made worse because they are terrified of bad press about special group x complaining they aren’t being protected, so they overreact to do more when doing less would accomplish more.

This wasn’t a filter fail, this was a system fail.

Anonymous Coward says:

No, Corporations have 1st Amendment Right to control "platform"!

Even if wrong! There is NO other consideration than right of "platform", can control the content and outlet of any "natural" person’s speech, sez Masnick, over and over.

Masnick is a rabid corporatist, doesn’t care that Twitter and other multi-national "platforms" are becoming de facto censors — of persons whom Masnick "politically" opposes.

But when it’s the "right" person (not "conservative" or even "Republican"), Masnick reverses to oppose what persistently advocates.

Convenient, huh? Liberals and other corporatists have all the advantages, don’t have to be consistent.

Anonymous Coward says:

SO, "TAC": in practice you DO NOT support M_a_s_n_i_c_k's

notion that corporations have a Right to control YOUR speech.

No one SANE does!

You got LUCKY this time, but are now in thrall to Twitter!

Fear its arbitrary power. After all, Twitter didn’t HAVE TO restore your account, EVEN IF WRONGLY suspended.

It’s a Corporation with Rights. YOU are one little "natural" person, who could effectively be deprived of even ability to protest!

Are you going to object next time Masnick asserts that YOUR voice can silenced for any motive? (Won’t be long until Masnick does, it’s a compulsion.)

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: SO, "TAC": in practice you DO NOT support M_a_s_n_i_c_k's

Pookie, I know its hard but try reading what I wrote.

I understand Twitter can take its ball and go home at anytime. I didn’t fall into the trap of ‘ZOMG MAH FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS!!!’ they aren’t the government so in sane minds this isn’t even a question. Maybe I hang out with far to many 1st Amendment lawyers on the twitters & learned stuff.

“Are you going to object next time Masnick asserts that YOUR voice can silenced for any motive?”

Ummm pookie… that you ever looked at my profile?
Back when we had them, 2 favorites of the week, several thousand posts, 8 submitted stories… Oh and this entire story about 1 crazy faggot suspended by Twitter… seems like he tolerates my speech & encourages it even if we disagree. Perhaps if you get back on the meds you’ll understand that its the community that is tired of your pointless screaming into the void about things you imagine are happening to you because reality is a bridge to far for you to cross anymore.

Seek help.

(this is one of those fun times when I forget never engage with the freaks, I won’t fix them & I’d be better off teaching a pig to whistle.)

Ishtiaq (profile) says:

You protest too much

T.A.C.

Please shut up. I have had read through this thread and comments. You are peddling this whole “look how badly I have been treated” far too much. First world problem. Please grow up and shut up.You get us faggots a bad press and all us queers get tarred with the same brush as you whingeing queens.

By the way, in the supermarket where I buy food, they sell a delicious food called… faggots.

Cheers… Ishy

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: You protest too much

Bitter, table for 1?

It wasn’t so much about how badly I was treated as it was about the stupid system Twitter has created to try and make people happy who want nothing more than to force people they dislike to be silenced. Perhaps how fabulous I am overwhelmed your ability to comprehend.

The difference being Twitter silenced me & I have no idea who did it so I can call them fucktards for doing it.

You, you I can see wanting me silenced…
Fucktard.

If you’d read everything you’d have seen the we covered the food known as faggots already.

Thanks for commenting, glad I could irritate the fuck out of you, my day is now made.

TAC

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You protest too much

Bish I am a legend in my own mind, and the stuff of nightmares for copyright trolls. (says so right there in the preamble to my 2nd set of favorites)

I was important enough for a group to target me to be silenced. Yes it was silenced because I was locked out of the platform until I admitted my guilt for something I didn’t do & hand them the keys to my identity.

You might not want to hear what I have to say but I have 400 followers who seem to care…

Anonymous Coward says:

So, what you’re telling me is that if I make a full-fledged profile, agree with everything the contributors write, and maintain a neverending snarky and condescending attitude to all truly anonymous commenters, I can one day have Mike Masnick suck my dick with a nepotistic puff piece like this?

It’s enticing, but no thanks. I prefer my dignity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Usenet more or less died off a decade ago when New York Attorney General –now Governor– Andrew Cuomo, hollywood’s eternal sweetheart, launched a crusade against usenet that ended up causing all major American ISPs to drop the service. The “official” reason was the alleged presence of child pornography, but it’s not hard to deduce the real reason. Usenet had become a major conduit of “pirated” Hollywood films and TV shows, and Cuomo was no doubt under pressure from his Hollywood moneymen who wanted it dead and buried.

http://www.cnet.com/news/cuomo-strong-arms-comcast-over-usenet/

http://www.nypost.com/2017/11/09/why-hollywood-loves-andrew-cuomo/

btr1701 says:

Re: Re: Usenet

There are still a few Usenet groups that are flourishing. I frequent rec.arts.tv, several hundred posts per day, mostly on-topic, and it’s not showing any sign of slowing down.

It is quite refreshing break from the hyper-moderated and censored web platforms, where you can say literally anything you want and no one’s going to suspend your account or put you in cyber jail for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Twitter only bars people for random things.
But it NEVER bars people for hateful speech calling for the extermination of [insert group here] as long as they don’t use “bad words”.

apparently it’s OK to call someone a child-eating, satan-worshipping, human blood drinking worm, but call them [bad word] and your account is closed.

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