James Woods Is Correct That Twitter Shouldn't Have Blocked His Account, But Still Hypocritical On Free Speech
from the you're-no-free-speech-martyr-jimbo dept
I think we’ve made our general feelings about James Woods perfectly clear. After all, he’s the guy who sued an anonymous Twitter user for a somewhat mild comeback that referenced cocaine usage (leaving aside that Woods himself had tweeted very similar hyperbolic tweets suggesting people he was arguing with were on crack). In the middle of that lawsuit, the (still) anonymous tweeter died, leading Woods to gloat about “winning” the case and about the guy’s death. Suffice it to say, Woods is — in our opinion — a terrible human being. Suing someone for being mildly critical of you is bad. Gloating over their death takes you up a few notches to being a horrible human being.
That said, when Woods’ own free speech is attacked via a similarly bogus defamation lawsuit over his own tweets, we didn’t support the plaintiff just because it was against Woods. We noted, instead, that we hoped he won the case — and he did.
Now Woods is in another situation, where — somewhat incredibly — he’s trying to make himself out as a free speech warrior. It seems that Twitter suspended his access to his account because of a meme he had tweeted. It was what appeared to be a fairly obvious satirical fake meme urging men to stay home on election day to let women’s vote have more weight. Woods admitted that it was “not likely” to be real, but still noted “that there is a distinct possibility this could be real.” First of all, there was no such distinct possibility. Second of all… none of it makes any sense. The meme is completely nonsensical no matter what your views on these issues are.
But, for this tweet, Twitter has suspended Woods, arguing that the meme violates its terms of service because it: “has the potential to be misleading in a way that could impact an election.” It is, of course, fairly obvious how we got here. During the 2016 election, there were a bunch of memes — some of which appear to have been placed deliberately by state actors seeking to influence our election — that were actual attempts to suppress the vote. The various social media players, including Twitter, have been under great pressure (including from Congress) to try to avoid a repeat of such things in 2018. And thus, they created a rule against images that have “the potential to be misleading in a way that could impact an election.” Then, that rule is handed off to one of the hundreds or thousands of content moderators working for Twitter, and they have basically a few seconds to review the tweet and say “does this break the rule?” If you look at the rule and the tweet… and nothing else… it’s not hard to see why you’d choose the option that says “yup, he violated the rule.”
Of course, this is entirely lacking in context — and even as Woods is too silly to recognize that there’s zero chance that this is real. And there is similarly zero chance that anyone reading Woods’ feed would look at this meme and say “oh, right, sure, I’m not going to vote now.” But, as professor Kate Klonick discussed in our recent podcast, you can’t write “understand the context” into the rules. It’s literally not possible. So you can only expect these low wage content moderators to follow the rules as written, no matter how silly the potential results. And, applied literally, that tweet violates that rule — even if that leads to a totally ridiculous outcome.
This is why we keep trying to point out that moderating content at scale on these platforms is a case where it’s impossible to do it well. There will be lots of “mistakes” like these, because there’s no other way.
That’s not to say that someone at Twitter shouldn’t fix it. But, it’s still tricky. If Twitter changes the ruling on this, then people will claim that it’s not following its own rules… and (yup) a bunch of people will get angry again.
In the meantime, Woods is ridiculously trying to turn himself into a free speech martyr over this.
?Free speech is free speech ? it?s not Jack Dorsey?s version of free speech,? Woods said, referring to Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey.
Dude. You sued an anonymous troll for a mild bit of criticism on Twitter. You don’t get to whine about a lack of “free speech” on Twitter without basically all of us calling you a total fucking hypocrite.
Woods, not surprisingly, also seems to have no clue how content moderation on internet platforms works:
He noted that his original tweet was reposted by his girlfriend on Friday and had been retweeted thousands of times by Sunday. His girlfriend?s account wasn?t locked, which he said was proof that he?d been singled out because of his large Twitter following.
No, dude. It just means that someone reported your tweet, but no one reported your girlfriend’s. Twitter isn’t proactively scanning every single tweet. It’s just if someone reports it, then it goes through the process. In this case, since tons of people hate follow Woods to see what crazy statement he’s going to make next, it shouldn’t be that surprising that someone “reported” that tweet — and then the process described above happened.
But Woods just keeps going on a tear about his free speech apparently being suppressed… and something about knives and pillows.
?The irony is, Twitter accused me of affecting the political process, when in fact, their banning of me is the truly egregious interference,? Woods said. ?Because now, having your voice smothered is much more disturbing than having your vocal chords slit. If you want to kill my free speech, man up and slit my throat with a knife, don?t smother me with a pillow.?
Woods said if he deletes the tweet, it would force him to watch his step with everything he says in the future, chilling free speech.
Let’s just stop for a moment and recall that Woods sued another Twitter user for a mild criticism in the midst of one of Woods’ many Twitter fights and then gloated when that guy died, initially making it appear that he had “won” the lawsuit, rather than having it closed due to the death of the defendant, and then later happily saying he hoped that the dead defendant died screaming Woods’ name in agony. And now he wants to whine about the “chilling” effects of Twitter saying he can’t tweet? Come on.
Anyway, yes, it’s silly that Twitter suspended Woods’ account, and the company should probably reverse that decision, even if it’s totally understandable how it came about. But none of that changes Woods being a total free speech hypocrite and a really awful human being.