During the past few weeks, we’ve been covering the brief but crowded and fascinating history of Twitter bans. We’ve noted that while Twitter, when asked to explain a user ban, cites its impartial-sounding “Twitter Rules” and “Terms of Service,” the rules seem to work, politically speaking, in only one direction.
As we’ve seen, a flamboyant, wisecracking opponent of identity politics got kicked off Twitter – while the terrorist group that fomented violence to prevent him speaking at Berkeley has kept its Twitter account.
Similarly, a virulently anti-Semitic freshman Senator has retained her coveted “blue check” – while a Twitter user who pointed out her anti-Semitism got the boot.
Now, as we’ve already reported, it’s our turn. In mid February, one of us opened up our Twitter account to find a big red banner informing us of our suspension.
All our tweets had been removed. Nearly four years’ worth. It was not possible to post new ones.
We wrote to Twitter Service, appealing our suspension. The reply read, in part, as follows: “We typically suspend accounts for violations of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules) or Terms of Service (https://twitter.com/tos).”
We then wrote back, asking to know the specific reason for our suspension. Twitter Support’s answer? “Your account has been suspended due to multiple or repeat violations of the Twitter Rules: https://twitter.com/rules.”
We responded with an e-mail stating that our suspension “seems unfair, given that there was no warning or mention what the violation was.” We then received an e-mail chiding us for trying “to update a case that has been closed” and telling us to “submit a new case.”
We did so. Once again, we were informed that “Your account has been suspended due to multiple or repeat violations of the Twitter Rules: https://twitter.com/rules.”
What do you call it when a social-media platform bans you without telling you? As we’ve previously discussed, it’s called a shadow ban. But Twitter doesn’t shadow ban! It must be true, because it says so on Twitter’s own company blog.
Let’s make one thing clear. Here at Useful Stooges, we’re believers in democratic capitalism. We understand the argument that Twitter, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), is a private company and has a right to permanently suspend whichever users it wants to.
Then again, Con Edison, which provides energy to residents of New York City and environs, is also a private company. It’s also traded on the NYSE. Does it have a right to deny electricity to users whose opinions it disapproves of?
What about your local phone company? Does it have a right to turn off your phone service if it doesn’t approve of your voting record?
These aren’t idle questions or ridiculous comparisons. The fact is that over the last few years Twitter, like Facebook and YouTube, has become a major site of public debate on the issues of the day. Once these platforms have attained a certain level of importance, they can no longer be considered private in the same way they once were. They’re part of the public square. They’re more important than even the largest newspapers and network news operations.
The President of United States famously uses Twitter to react to news developments in real time. Is it fair to deny Twitter access to U.S. citizens who want to know what their President has to say?
Some observers have argued that Twitter and other social-media platforms qualify under US law as public accommodations – which would mean that in at least some jurisdictions it would be illegal for them to ban users because of their political views.
What now? Well, we’re not giving in. Because it’s not just about us. And it’s not just about Twitter. It’s about this whole social-media landscape which, for good or ill, is where we have a great many of our important conversations nowadays. For the gatekeepers of this territory to close that space off to people whose politics they don’t like is scary stuff. It’s anti-democratic. It’s anti-American. It doesn’t bode well for our future, and our children’s future.
We here at Useful Stooges have done a lot of writing in recent years in the cause of freedom. It’s time, apparently, for us to do more than write. It’s time for us to act.