from the how-do-you-deal-with-this? dept
You may have heard that conspiracy theorist and nonsense-spouting Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has, not for the first time, been temporarily suspended from Twitter for passing along conspiracy theory nonsense regarding vaccines. She’s unable to tweet for 7 days. I, unfortunately, can’t find the tweet now, but back in July when she was similarly suspended for just 12 hours, I saw someone jokingly note that temporarily suspending someone like Greene was the equivalent of Twitter throwing her a fundraiser, since she would immediately turn around, play the victim, and get her gullible, duped followers to throw more money at her. And, no doubt the same is true with this suspension as well. She’s already put out a statement and the usual “conservative” media orgs are already talking about how “Twitter can’t handle the truth” or some such nonsense.
And then, of course, you have people who are reasonably ticked off at Twitter “only” temporarily suspending Greene for spreading nonsense info, rather than permanently banning her.
So, in the end, you have both ends of the political spectrum mad about this setup, and trying to spin it to their own advantage. However, once again, it really seems to highlight the impossible nature of content moderation at scale, especially when some of the parties are clearly acting in bad faith.
Twitter has its escalation policies in place, and they’re designed (reasonably!) to deal with good faith users, who might not realize they’re violating the rules or spreading dangerous disinformation. In that world, an escalating penalty system makes sense. Getting suspended for a few hours or a week generally sucks for users who actually like to use the site but it’s a sort of “cool off” period combined with a gentle nudge to be a better participant on the internet. But, of course, that system kind of breaks down when you have not just bad faith actors who are deliberately testing the boundaries of what they can get away with, but who actually benefit from the suspension and the press attention that comes with it.
At this point, some will say “well, that’s a perfect reason to just suspend such people permanently.” But, alas, that comes with its own challenges. Indeed, jumping straight to a permanent suspension only proves that the company would be treating some people differently, and would be treated by people like Greene as “proof” of “anti-conservative bias” (again, this would be bad faith, but it would allow the story to have some level of confirmation). So, Twitter can’t do that without providing what a bunch of people will see as confirming evidence. So Twitter follows its rules, and continues to escalate the punishment (eventually MTG will get permanently suspended, it seems only a matter of time).
Looked at realistically, the fact that Twitter is following its stated escalation policies, rather than doing an outright ban should be seen as evidence that it is not “biased against conservatives,” but is treating everyone the same. If you violate the company’s policies about COVID vaccines, then you go through the escalation process — whether you made a mistake in good faith or whether your a bad faith grifter. Of course, that’s not how it will play out anywhere, because no one does nuance any more.
Some might argue that the obvious bad faith nature of MTG’s arguments mean that Twitter should just have a policy of banning bad faith grifters. And that’s certainly tempting, but how do you define bad faith grifter within a policy such that a large team of content moderation professionals can apply it consistently? The problem is that you really can’t. The very nature of an escalation policy is that it does, eventually, take care of most bad faith grifters. It just takes time, and allows them to violate the rules a bunch of times before getting the final send-off.