Twitter's New 'Private Information' Policy Takes Impossible Content Moderation Challenges To New, Ridiculous Levels

from the the-end-of-everything dept

I’ve been working on a post about a whole bunch of interesting (and good!) things that Twitter has been doing over the last few months. I’m not sure when that post will be ready, but I need to interrupt that process to note a truly head-scratching change in Twitter’s moderation policy announced this week. Specifically, Twitter announced that its “private information policy” has now been expanded to include “media.” Specifically, Twitter says that it will remove photos and videos that are posted “without the permission of the person(s) depicted.” In other words, Twitter has taken the old, meme-ified, “I’m in this photo and I don’t like it” into official policy for taking down content.

Buried deeper in the rules is a very subjective conditional:

This policy is not applicable to media featuring public figures or individuals when media and accompanying text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.

But that’s going to lead to some very, very big judgment calls about (a) who is a “public figure” and (b) what is “in the public interest.” And early examples suggest that Twitter’s Trust & Safety team are failing this test.

I can understand the high level, first pass thinking that leads to this policy: there are situations in which photos or videos that are taken surreptitiously and then are used to mock or harass someone can certainly raise questions and there are perfectly reasonable policy choices to be made on how to handle those scenarios. But how do you distinguish those rare circumstances with a much wider series of cases where people may not have given permission to be in photos or videos, but keeping that content online is clearly beneficial. This can range from the obvious incidental background images of people walking by in a crowded place to — much more concerning — situations of journalism being done by individuals, recording important events. Twitter’s insistence that it won’t apply to “public interest” issues is hardly reassuring. We’ve seen those claims before and they rarely work in practice.

The most obvious example of this is one of the biggest stories of 2020: the video taping of police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck until he died. In theory, under the broadness of this policy, that video would be taken down off of Twitter. There are lots of other situations as well, including things like Amy Cooper, who was filmed in Central Park calling the police on Christian Cooper (no relation to Amy) who was in the park bird-watching. There are plenty of other examples where people are filmed in public, without their permission, but it’s done to reveal important things that have happened in the world. For example, law enforcement relied on help from social media to help identify people who stormed the Capital on January 6th. It seems that under this new policy, all those photos of January 6th insurrectionists could be removed from Twitter. Is sharing them in the public interest? Depends on who you ask, I imagine…

For years we’ve seen tons of people abusing other systems to take down content they didn’t like. For example, there was the part owner of the Miami Heat who literally sued over an unflattering photo by first obtaining the copyright for it. Or the revenge porn extortionist who tried to force stories about him offline with copyright notices. In Europe, we’ve seen something similar with abuses of the “right to be forgotten” to memory hole news stories.

And here, Twitter is setting up to just take down any such photo or video upon request? This seems wide open for massive levels of abuse. Indeed, there are already a number of reports about the policy being used to silence activists and researchers:

Yes, even some of the examples above may be considered edge cases with more nuance than is presented by the people posting them, but as we’ve seen with copyright and the right to be forgotten, give people a tool to get any information removed from social media, and it will be massively and widely abused to try to hide bad behavior.

I’m honestly perplexed at why Twitter implemented such a broad policy, so difficult to enforce, and so open to abuse. It seems extremely unlike the more thoughtful trust & safety moves the company has made over the past few years.

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Comments on “Twitter's New 'Private Information' Policy Takes Impossible Content Moderation Challenges To New, Ridiculous Levels”

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45 Comments
Bergman (profile) says:

Re: It's called "Calvin ball"...

It’s not just Calvin ball, it’s retroactive Calvin ball – they’re applying the new rules to content that was posted years before the policy went into effect.

No Twitter regular has time to go back through every tweet they’ve ever sent to vet whether it violates a poorly written, highly subjective new policy.

Heck, the new policy might even require Twitter to ban its own executives or even itself from its servers, because I’m pretty sure the new policy being retroactive puts even the founders of Twitter in violation at least once!

generateusername says:

I’m honestly perplexed at why Twitter implemented such a broad policy, so difficult to enforce, and so open to abuse. It seems extremely unlike the more thoughtful trust & safety moves the company has made over the past few years.

And that’s exactly why I think more transparency is a good thing. Even if a government mandate is unconstitutional, there’s nothing stopping them from doing it on their own accord.

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Koby (profile) says:

Under The Guise Of

But that’s going to lead to some very, very big judgment calls about (a) who is a "public figure" and (b) what is "in the public interest." And early examples suggest that Twitter’s Trust & Safety team are failing this test.

They’re not failing. They’re manipulating. The goal is to shape public discourse whenever they see fit. A couple of mistakes here, there, and everywhere are a small price to pay to be able to arbitrarily takedown content later when they deem it important.

Mark Gisleson (profile) says:

Currently locked out of Twitter

Last night while watching my NBA team lose, I received four emails from Twitter urging me to change my password as someone from Vietnam had logged into my account.

By the time I saw the emails, I was locked out of Twitter and my account was closed. So far I have been unable to open a new account because the registration process does not allow me to not have a phone (I quit phones forever last year, never going back until our corrupt Congress gets rid of phone spam).

Twitter Help says they’ve given me access but only for my email address. They didn’t notice the account had been closed and their system no longer recognized my username.

Not crying on anyone’s shoulder here, but I do wonder if this wouldn’t be the perfect way of "cleansing" Twitter without exposing the new CEO to heat over political account closures. I have been very abrasive here about Russiagate and more so at Twitter where I also have a long history of RTing news about a certain country’s Apartheid policies.

I hate to think this way, but for the life of me I cannot see how anyone would gain from hacking into my account and closing it unless they intended to silence me. [Which did happen in 2005 when I was routinely blogging about that certain country’s Apartheid policies and the server farm hosting my blog got hit with a DDOS attack and I had to find a new host.]

Mark Gisleson (profile) says:

Re: Currently locked out of Twitter

And….Twitter finally got me back in and I found I had just followed Elon Musk and tweeted my appreciation for his account.

And then the ‘hacker’ closed my account.

Which makes no sense to me whatsoever. But rather than delete my original comment I’m leaving it up because as a long time Twitter user, stuff happens on Twitter that’s really hard to explain.

Mark Gisleson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Currently locked out of Twitter

Figured it out after deleting the Musk tweets. While I was locked out the ‘hacker’ drove about 40k views in traffic. I’m guessing most of that was from other hacked accounts and the real bottom line was that Musk is buying traffic for his social media accounts and this is where some of it is coming from.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Currently locked out of Twitter

"the registration process does not allow me to not have a phone"

Something something gift of prophecy.
I swear I said something about a bunch of random timeouts forcing people to give twitter their phone number because the appeal would never be heard and it was a soft way to make people hand over their numbers.
Now look at that, you can’t even use the service now unless you give them a number.
Thank goodness their systems are really secure & no ones ever exfiled out a buncha of data on users the Kingdom didn’t like…. oh wait.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"I’m honestly perplexed at why Twitter implemented such a broad policy, so difficult to enforce, and so open to abuse. It seems extremely unlike the more thoughtful trust & safety moves the company has made over the past few years."

Because the policy appeals to a certain loud subset who hold office & like to make things hard for Twitter.

You and I disagree about trust & safety being thoughtful, almost 300 days & still I can’t get my data despite my rights to my data being very important to them, but this is as stupid as their grand push to drive all possible threats of violence from the platform.

Video shared of someone being fake kidnapped for a party. Person posted if someone grabbed them like they they would hit them.
Person locked out, forced to delete tweet for threatening violence, attach phone number to account, & then serve hours of timeout to think about how wrong it is to suggest defending yourself against an attacker.
Person appealed but was ignored.
Most likely they still have a strike against them in the secret files.

Video of (IIRC) that woman who made nachos on the kitchen counter.
Person commented it made them want to choke someone.
Person locked out, demand to delete tweet for threatening violence, attach phone number to account, & then serve hours of timeout to think about how wrong it is to suggest violence against imaginary hypothetical people.
Person appealed but was ignored.
Appeal finally gotten around to after about a month I think & oh they made a boo boo.

Threats made against hypothetical imaginary "victims" who weren’t given any characteristics making them stand ins for a protected class & show me someone who has never said I could kill someone or slap someone in the heat of the moment?

But then what do I know, I used a guy fawkes avatar & that was enough to declare me a public enemy multiple times when I hadn’t actually violated any rule or policy, but its perfectly okay to judge me by my avatar rather than the facts.

Telling Trust & Safety they suck & sending Jack a picture of himself saying its the biggest dick you’ve ever seen gets you soft permabanned & your data kept from you.

Pity no one can get any numbers about how many others have been black holed & are unable to get their data or end their account. Pretty sure its more than just me.

LittleCupcakes says:

Twitter may prefer that it is seen as respectful, moral, ordered, and principled and so comes up with policies that hide the simple, actual truth.

It would be much more defensible for their tech oligarchs to simply state that Twitter may remove whatever it content it wishes for any reason, or no reason, as is its right. Of course, its suppression of disfavored speech is awful regardless of policy obfuscations, but Twitter should at least have the gumption to state what is obviously true and simultaneously vigorously assert their right to do it.

That is at least worthy of respect. Corporate blah-blah bullshit never is.

Rocky says:

Re: Stating the obvious...

Twitter may prefer that it is seen as respectful, moral, ordered, and principled and so comes up with policies that hide the simple, actual truth.

What simple truths are they hiding? Be specific.

It would be much more defensible for their tech oligarchs to simply state that Twitter may remove whatever it content it wishes for any reason, or no reason, as is its right.

So you haven’t read their TOS then? See section 4, paragraph 2, sentence 5:
We may also remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, limit distribution or visibility of any Content on the service, suspend or terminate users, and reclaim usernames without liability to you.

So it is very definitely simply stated which anyone could have ascertained if they had bothered to visit https://twitter.com/en/tos

Of course, its suppression of disfavored speech is awful regardless of policy obfuscations, but Twitter should at least have the gumption to state what is obviously true and simultaneously vigorously assert their right to do it.
That is at least worthy of respect.

What disfavored speech do you refer to? Be specific.

Also, I have yet to see Twitter say that they don’t have the right to run their service as they see fit. Usually, the only time someone vigorously needs to assert their rights is when someone is trying to remove or infringe them. Your statement that this is worthy of respect is kind of strange since it’s already clear that Twitter can do as they please.

Corporate blah-blah bullshit never is.

Blaming a corporation for acting like a corporation is kind of silly. Almost every corporation’s goal is to make money for their owners which means nearly everything they do is to keep it flowing in and for a social media company that is done by keeping a majority of their customers happy. You are free to point which corporations doesn’t operate in such a way since every other corporation operate on "bullshit" to some degree.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It would be much more defensible for their tech oligarchs to simply state that Twitter may remove whatever it content it wishes for any reason, or no reason, as is its right

They do, it’s called the TOS and any site run by someone even remotely sane(or getting advice from someone who is) has one, it’s not the site’s fault that so many people apparently don’t read it.

Of course, its suppression of disfavored speech is awful regardless of policy obfuscations, but Twitter should at least have the gumption to state what is obviously true and simultaneously vigorously assert their right to do it.

Which ‘disfavored speech’ would that be, and be specific.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

LittleCupcakes says:

Re: Re: Re:

Hi,

The truth i mentioned is that Twitter can do whatever it damn well pleases. They just won’t say it in defending their actions.

Wow, got some Twitter defenders up in here! Wasn’t expecting that. It’s odd that a corporation misleads the public, and yet is defended merely by saying “akshually, it’s a TOS thing“.

Twitter is publicizing these “trust and safety” guidelines that give the impression that these decisions are governed by motives that have been given thought, not merely the effluence of boilerplate legal terms. The TOS has not been trumpeted, not been publicized, nor have i seen any reference by them to it when discussing the guidelines.

So while it is certainly valid for we educated consumers to go to the TOS, there has not been any reference to such by Twitter and no reason for the average TOS-skipper to know that Twitter has that power.

Twitter has not publicly proclaimed what i suggested: or service our rules. Instead, they issue guidelines and act for all the world that they really care.

Show of hands: who trusts corporations to act in the best interests of its userbase?

Disfavored speech is that which is suppressed, hidden, blocked, etc. Note that while there may be excellent reasons to disfavor certain speech, doing so is a bad thing for a platform that is built on the speech of its users. As for examples of disfavored speech, they abound:
Occupy bans
Hunter Biden story ban
Nudity
Covid issues
Antifa content
Misgendering/deadnaming

Some people are probably glad that this disfavored speech is suppressed on Twitter, and don’t give a crap about free expression. I want to read it all, bad and good, left and right; i can decide for myself what to believe.

Twitter can do whatever it wants on its servers; they should be loud and proud about exercising their freedom of speech.

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Wow, got some Twitter defenders up in here! Wasn’t expecting that. It’s odd that a corporation misleads the public, and yet is defended merely by saying “akshually, it’s a TOS thing“.

I’m not a Twitter defender, I just like to point out faulty reasoning and pearl-clutching arguments founded in ignorance. It’s clear that you hadn’t actually read the TOS before your post above, and that also means you have based your arguments on ignorance.

Twitter is publicizing these “trust and safety” guidelines that give the impression that these decisions are governed by motives that have been given thought, not merely the effluence of boilerplate legal terms. The TOS has not been trumpeted, not been publicized, nor have i seen any reference by them to it when discussing the guidelines.

You are presented with the TOS when you sign up for the service, but considering everything else you said you probably just clicked "Agree" without reading one word but it was certainly publicized for you to read beforehand. The TOS also explicitly says that Twitter may update their TOS and policies from time to time, which they have done now. That you are ignorant of how they operate is entirely due to your own laziness.

So while it is certainly valid for we educated consumers to go to the TOS, there has not been any reference to such by Twitter and no reason for the average TOS-skipper to know that Twitter has that power.

Ignorance is never a defense, neither is laziness. If people have no reason to know that Twitter can run their service as they see fit it just tells me that they are lazy and ignorant and their complaints are borne from that.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"It’s clear that you hadn’t actually read the TOS before your post above, and that also means you have based your arguments on ignorance."

Or on bad faith. I’m inclined to believe the latter given how many alt-right talking points "LittleCupcakes" keeps bringing to the table and double down on.

Sure, transparency might be nice – we’d finally know exactly why self-styled "conservatives" keep telling people there’s a bias against them. But just as with the bartender tossing nazis out of their bar there is no natural expectation of justification.

If you show an asshole out the door of your house no one has the right to call upon you to justify why that person just got thrown out. That’s the most fundamental idea around private property. You literally can not be a liberal and contend otherwise.

Which is why "Koby v2.0"’s assertion of "…no reason for the average TOS-skipper to know that Twitter has that power." only proves they aren’t clear on the basic concept of private property or the "freedom of association" bit of 1A.

"If people have no reason to know that Twitter can run their service as they see fit it just tells me that they are lazy and ignorant and their complaints are borne from that."

Hanlon’s razor breaks on this one, Rocky. You could line up the hundred worst village idiots from the most inbred cesspits of the globe and ask them whether they think a property owner has the right to toss assholes out of their property…and not one of them would be moron enough to honestly answer in the negative.

When someone does bring that argument you know that argument is brought in bad faith.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Wow, got some Twitter defenders up in here! Wasn’t expecting that. It’s odd that a corporation misleads the public, and yet is defended merely by saying “akshually, it’s a TOS thing“."

I guess when you’re lying through your teeth and making false assertions as the whole basis of your argument doubling down on being the victim of "teh ebil twitter defenders" when they point out your bullshit just makes sense, eh? I doubt half of those "defenders" have twitter accounts – people with principles don’t need to hold vested interests in the principles they choose to defend. Something which ought to be second nature to you given that you’ve claimed adherence to all those liberal principles in times past.

Now, before you can even sign on to Twitter you need to click your way through a recognition of their Terms of Service – in which it is unambiguously stated outright that Twitter reserves the right to deny service, lock your account, moderate your comments, in whole or in part, for no other reason than Twitter’s own judgment.

That service is provided as-is. Not unconditionally, not with rights or privileges handed to users.

Same, essentially, as entering a bar or mall. You can be evicted at any time, for any reasons. The bartender needs not provide a reason. That’s how private property has always worked.

And the only people to ever cast aspersion on that have always been either the genuine dictionary-definition communists who don’t believe property exists and lately, the US alt-right shills who feel entitled to everyone elses property, apparently. And everyone who actually believes in free speech, democracy and liberal principle is by their nature already unable to join the commies and the alt-right shills in that endeavor.

"Of course, its suppression of disfavored speech is awful regardless of policy obfuscations…"

Uh-huh. Because tossing out the assholes who won’t stop shouting the N-word or who keep implying half of the rest of the user base are godless pagans for believing in freedom of choice, is a deplorable choice. The incessant whine of the unpleasant asshole evicted from the bar for being an unpleasant asshole.

"Note that while there may be excellent reasons to disfavor certain speech, doing so is a bad thing for a platform that is built on the speech of its users."

The vast majority of the world which prefers not to have to spend time in the company of Nazis, Klansmen, Conspiracy wingnuts, Flat Earthers, ISIS recruiters, Anti-vax fanatics, Grifters, Con men and Trolls begs to differ with you on that score.

Facebook and Twitter seem to be occupying a position where they don’t lack users. The verdict of the world is already in; No one wants to go where assholes are welcome. Twitter tossing out assholes seems to be a winning move. Not a bad one.

Alternatives exist, of course. The cesspool which is 4chan, for instance. Parler and Gab, visited only by the most adherents of Trump and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Both of which have in common that they serve as excellent demonstrations that any platform which allows such "disfavored speech" as outright lies intended to endanger people or justify viewing a demographic as lesser beings will lose the vast majority of its audience.

Because, again, no one wants to spend time with assholes.

Twitter could do what you call for. Stop tossing assholes and removing posts trying to con people into eating They’d become as unpopular as Gab within of a month and be replaced within the next. Because no one wants to enter a post to provide casual commentary and then have to scroll through 30 pages of spambots and trolls.

That’s really the issue with the thinly veiled alt-right rhetoric in general. Even if they get everything they ask for the only result remains that in any free country the service which provides an asshole-free environment will become the winner. At which point the alt-right will whine a little more and once again try to make the state carve out a safe space for them – on other people’s property. Their tactic of gradually moving the narrative from attempted shaming and faked martyrdom into calls for legislative action may have worked well in the past when mass communications weren’t really a thing and they could rely on a gang of thugs to silence the dissenters in the rallies.

But it doesn’t work online. Social media lives on catering to the majority…and the majority of people just aren’t keen to let liars, grifters and bigots into their lives at any level. Thus social media will always keep the assholes outside. Because handing your competitor 90% of the market just isn’t smart.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"It would be much more defensible for their tech oligarchs to simply state that Twitter may remove whatever it content it wishes for any reason, or no reason, as is its right."

You mean as in when everyone signing up to their brand new Twitter account are informed of exactly that?

"Twitter should at least have the gumption to state what is obviously true and simultaneously vigorously assert their right to do it. "

I refer to Twitter’s Terms of Service, section 4;

…the Services may change from time to time, at our discretion. We may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services or any features within the Services to you or to users generally. We also retain the right to create limits on use and storage at our sole discretion at any time. We may also remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, limit distribution or visibility of any Content on the service, suspend or terminate users, and reclaim usernames without liability to you.

This is just an idea, you understand, but perhaps people would start to treat you better here if your assertions and assumptions about easily verifiable facts weren’t so often outright wrong.

LittleCupcakes says:

Re: Re: Re:

Go ahead and show me the Twitter communique where they trumpet, as loudly as their “trust and safety” guidelines, the power of their TOS. My argument is correct: they can do whatever they want, but don’t have the fortitude to say it out loud and defend it. TOS ain’t that. That is hiding.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"Go ahead and show me the Twitter communique where they trumpet, as loudly as their “trust and safety” guidelines, the power of their TOS."

It’s literally tossed right in your face in easily read, large-letter font even a third grader could read in a hurry, as soon as you try to create an account.

It’s better described and more easily read than your constitutional rights, the laws you live by daily, or the rights by which the IRS comes to take your money each year. If you aren’t literate enough to match grade school standards then that’s hardly twitter’s fault.

"TOS ain’t that. That is hiding."

Hiding. By being clearer and more upfront about what you agree to than god damn traffic signals.

No, I think by now everyone around here has realized exactly where you’re coming from. That being the point where even if Twitter sent a personal herald to your house to read their ToS out loud in stentorian tones you’d just move the goalposts a few steps and invent another reason as to why Twitter hasn’t fulfilled the "obligation" you somehow feel they own.

So no, your argument died the very second you tried to tell us Twitter aren’t being quite clear about the reservations they retain regarding their services – and by extrapolation when you imply even the dumbest of morons should expect different rules than the blindingly obvious to apply on privately owned property.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"…and your opinion is meaningless to me."

As we did with Koby when he tried to shill the good people here, these responses aren’t meant for you anyway. They’re meant to highlight the parts of your commentary which is just bullshit "conservative" talking points.

If anything you donning the customary martyrdom of the wronged alt-right troll only makes this process faster.

Here’s a clue. No one around here is going to believe your spiel about being a liberal when the comments you keep making are alt-right talking points no liberal, by definition, could believe in.

Well, I say alt-right but the blatant disbelief in private property could also be found in some old musty holdovers from the 70’s in the truly far left. Do let us all know if that’s where you’re coming from. We’d at least assign you rarity value.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Wow

Yeah, they put a guy who is openly racially biased, and anti-free speech at the helm of Twitter and within 24 hours this is what we get. Good luck navigating this emotionally charged Left-fest from now on.

The carve-out for video that’s already being covered by the corporate media is key. It allows the corporate media to dictate what can and can’t be shared and ‘aired’ and gives them exclusive rights to cover it first. If someone posts a video they took of Dr. Fauci clubbing baby seals, it didn’t happen if NBC didn’t report it first.

It also allows them to minimize exposure of ‘inconvenient’ crimes. Someone has to protect the protesters, rioters, and looters from the consequences of their actions. Unless those rioters are the bad kind, like at the Capitol, then they’ll allow full and complete posting of people without their consent.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Ex Post facto

What’s particularly insidious is that when Twitter comes up with these new policies, they don’t just apply going forward. As is apparent from the above examples, people who posted things years ago, which were in full compliance with the rules at the time, are now being locked out of their accounts and/or suspended because those posts violate a rule that just sprang into existence yesterday.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I’ve been pondering…
What if Twitters ability to screw up the simplest rules change is just the other side of the coin where pundits scream Tech Harder.

Hear me out… you have the galaxy brain types who get an idea of how things SHOULD be, but no idea how to make them happen, they just demand it be done.

Upper levels of Twitter decide that they need a clear policy about revealing PII & invent it. They don’t actually spend much time on how it is supposed to work, just do it.

First tier of underlings cobble together some guidelines, those are passed down the org tree until we reach the people who daily are flagging all of the other thought crimes that have been declared before who basically get a postit saying no personal information allowed!!!!!

They suddenly apply this policy since the very first tweet went out, that coupled with the secret strikes (read the policies its a thing) you now have committed a new hearsay making the gods of the failwhale sad & their minions striking you down in retribution for a sinful tweet thats 4 years old.

You now have an even greater pile of appeals to try and sift through where logic is not allowed to be applied, you posted a picture of where someone lived, until you delete the tweet you are locked out. I don’t care that its 1600 Penn ave in DC, its someones home and thats personal!!!!!

Given the amount of time it can take to even get the ‘no its you users that are wrong for thinking logically’ denial its now just faster to give into being edited with less skill than Stalin and wondering what great purge will take you out next as collateral damage as unfully considered dictates are issued without any guidelines saying use logic.

Or you can just call Jack a dick and lose your account & your data.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Companionononononononono

"The restless turd-dropper is just the typical rightwing nutjob."

Also the only one who seems to agree with our new Koby, LittleCupCakes.

As I keep saying, if the only person to agree with you on a forum is the demonstrated stormfront refugee, maybe that’s the point where you’d want to question the logic of your arguments.

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