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.