Twitter’s “shadow ban” controversy

Twitter headquarters, San Francisco

Last summer, the Vice website reported that some Twitter users were being “shadow banned” – meaning that while the users themselves could see their tweets online, nobody else could. The targets of this ban were, it appeared, mostly conservatives. Among them were several members of Congress, Republican Party chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, and a spokesman for Donald Trump, Jr.

“Type in the names of McDaniel, conservative members of Congress like Reps. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, and Matt Gaetz, and Trump Jr.’s spokesman Andrew Surabian, for example,” noted Vice, “and Twitter’s drop-down search bar does not show their profiles.”

James O’Keefe

Soon after the Vice article appeared, President Trump tweeted about the alleged shadow banning. James O’Keefe of Project Veritas released a video in which a Twitter engineer confirmed the charge.

But Twitter denied it. In Britain, the Bible of the left, the Guardian, presented the whole thing as a right-wing conspiracy theory – “the latest iteration of an idea, bubbling away since the last election, that conservatives are being silenced by social media companies.”

Jim Jordan

To be sure, the Guardian acknowledged, Twitter had made changes in its algorithms that make “badly behaved users…less visible on the site.” Does this mean that in the Twitterverse, writing critically about Communism and bloodthirsty dictators amounts to bad behavior?

In any event, the bottom line from Jack Dorsey’s corporate headquarters was clear. “We do not shadow ban,” a Twitter spokesperson told the Guardian. And the Guardian bought it.

So, with few if any exceptions, did the rest of the left-wing media on both sides of the Atlantic.

At the website called The Verge, one Casey Newton called the very idea that Twitter was shadow banning “infuriating” and “very dumb.” Twitter “is in no way doing” this, insisted Newton.

At The Next Web, one Bryan Clark agreed that Twitter couldn’t possibly be banning conservatives because “Dorsey, by all accounts, is a smart man” and a smart man wouldn’t do such a thing. The proposition that Twitter was silencing conservatives, wrote Clark, was part of “the Republican war on truth.”

Brian Feldman

At New York Magazine, Brian Feldman dismissed the shadow-ban charged as fantasy of “the conspiracy-minded.” If prominent conservatives were having trouble with social media, he suggested, it might be because they were more likely than their left-wing counterparts to interact with fringe accounts…if not actually spread falsehoods and sensationalized outrage.”

Even Vice, in an update, wrote that “Twitter appears to have adjusted its platform overnight to no longer limit the visibility of some prominent Republicans in its search results.”

Jack Dorsey on Capitol Hill last September

One thing you might be able to say of Twitter is that as of last summer they still had a degree of plausible deniability. No more.

Since then, the Twitter bans have only accelerated – and, if anything, have seemed less and less justifiable.

On September 5, 2018, Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that Twitter doesn’t “consider political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions….Impartiality is our guiding principle.”

The very next day, Twitter permanently suspended conservative TV host Alex Jones (Infowars).

In October, Twitter permanently banned the conservative comic and pundit Gavin McInnes, supposedly for his association with the Proud Boys, a racially diverse, non-violent group that opposes identity politics and has been falsely tagged as racist and violent.

Laura Loomer

Meanwhile, as we noted earlier this week, local Antifa groups that are genuinely dangerous have been allowed to keep their Twitter accounts.

In November, conservative activist Laura Loomer was permanently banned for tweeting the following: “Isn’t it ironic how the twitter moment used to celebrate ‘women, LGBTQ, and minorities’ is a picture of Ilhan Omar? Ilhan is pro Sharia Ilhan is pro-FGM Under Sharia, homosexuals are oppressed & killed. Women are abused & forced to wear the hijab. Ilhan is anti Jewish.” Every word was true.

Ilhan Omar

Of course, Omar, the new Muslim Congresswoman from Minnesota who has already been forced by House colleagues to apologize for vile tweets about Jews, still retains her Twitter account.

Yet on September 14, 2018, Slate fiercely defended Twitter from charges of bias, insisting that “conservative users…have been misleadingly accusing the platform of shadow banning and removing accounts to suppress their viewpoints.”

Twitter’s double standards

Twitter boss Jack Dorsey

Two weeks ago we reported here that we’ve been banned from Twitter and been given no coherent reason for it. Last week we served up a list of prominent people with strong opinions who’ve also been banned for reasons that remain obscure.

To compare this list of people – each of whom had a great many followers and whose views fall well within the mainstream of American and Western opinion – to a roster of people who’ve kept their Twitter accounts is…what shall we say? Is it puzzling? Or is it illuminating?

Banned: Tommy Robinson

Take the British activist and journalist Tommy Robinson, who in addition to being kicked off of Twitter last year was removed from Facebook recently – one day, in fact, after his BBC exposé Panodrama was posted there.

Robinson is a vigorous critic of Islamic ideology. But he is no bigot. He consistently makes distinctions between an ideology that calls for the murder of Jews, gays, and apostates and hundreds of millions of people who, while calling themselves Muslims, somehow managing to distance themselves from those monstrous teachings.

Not banned: Farrakhan

Robinson’s allies, colleagues, and supporters, moreover, come from a wide range of backgrounds. His closest friends include black Caribbeans and gay people. In any event – and here’s the big point – he doesn’t have anything remotely resembling the comprehensive record of hate that has been compiled by, say, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Farrakhan, as everyone knows, has described Jews as “satanic.” He has called them “termites.” Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a black scholar who heads the Afro-American Studies Department at Harvard, has characterized a book by Farrakhan as “the bible of new anti-Semitism.” Of all the most famous people in America, Farrakhan is one of the vilest.

Yet although Facebook banned him in May, he still has a Twitter account that has never been even temporarily suspended.

Not banned: Sarsour

He’s far from alone. Also still tweeting away is Linda Sarsour, who claims to be a feminist but is a bosom buddy of Farrakhan, a constant wearer of hijab, and a passionate supporter of sharia law.

Also still on Twitter is BAMN, the violence-prone Trotskyite organization that both the FBI and the Defense Department consider to be a terrorist group. BAMN was behind the riot that prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at Berkeley in 2017. But while Twitter has banned Yiannopoulos, who never encouraged violence in his life, BAMN is a blue-check member (a status reserved for public figures and established organizations).

Not banned: Jeong

Also surviving perfectly well on Twitter, thank you very much, is that gang of vandals and thugs known as New York City Antifa. Ditto Sarah Jeong, the New York Times board member who gained notoriety last year for her prodigious use of Twitter to savage white people. And the list goes on.

Of course, allowing some perfectly horrible people to stay on Twitter is defensible. Cuba’s dictator, Raúl Castro, and dictator-in-waiting, Miguel Díaz-Canel, have blue-check accounts. But fine – it’s useful to know what’s on their nefarious minds.

Some Twitter bans are arguably defensible, too. The service has banned a number of groups and individuals on the right that practice and encourage violence. Yet at the same time it’s left any number of violent, hate-spewing users on the left entirely untouched. And that’s where the question of inequality comes in.

More next week.

Our Twitter ban: some background

Jack on the Joe Rogan podcast

Ah, Jack Dorsey. “Jack”! Everybody’s chum. A regular dude, who in a couple of recent appearances on the Joe Rogan podcast sported a scraggly beard, had lousy posture, and answered questions in a slow, rambling way that made him seem like someone who’d never been in front of a microphone before.

He’s striven, more than any of the other top-rank social-media billionaires, to make himself available for interviews and to come off as an ordinary guy whose heart is in the right place and who, faced with the daunting challenge of curating a social-media site, is sincerely struggling to get it right.

Banned: Anthony Cumia

Watch him here, for example, in the first of his two interviews with Rogan. Judging by the comments by YouTube viewers, we weren’t the only ones who were baffled by Rogan’s tame treatment of the Twitter king. Even though friends and acquaintances of Rogan’s had been banned from Twitter without anything remotely resembling a good explanation, Rogan tossed only softballs at Dorsey. The pushback from furious viewers was so overwhelming that both Rogan and Dorsey – apparently going into panic mode – promised to do a more revealing follow-up chat.

The reason for that pushback was that more than a few of those viewers had been kicked off of Twitter. Even more of them had seen people they admire kicked off the platform. And none of it for any reason, it seemed, other than sheer politics.

So we’re far from the first people to be unceremoniously removed from Twitter. Here are the names of a few of those who have preceded us in our instant infamy.

Banned: Milo

In 2016, the often irreverent libertarian commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently banned from Twitter after tweeting some insults about the remake of Ghostbusters and about actress/comedienne Leslie Jones, who starred in that film.

Admittedly, Yiannopoulos made some edgy jokes, but nothing that remotely merited a ban. In fact, Twitter’s official position was that it had banned Yiannopoulos not for his own tweets but – get this – for “racist and sexist remarks” directed at Jones by hundreds of Yiannopoulos’s followers.

Banned: Carl Benjamin

In short, Twitter was holding Yiannopoulos responsible for the behavior of people who followed his account. The New York Times bought into this crazy logic, maintaining that Yiannopoulos had “rallied and directed” the abuse. Of course, if every popular Twitter user were responsible for all the tweets by his or her users, they’d all be deplatformed in a New York minute.

Yiannopoulos was just one of the first to go. In June 2017, one of America’s foremost humorists, politically incorrect radio and podcast personality Anthony Cumia, author of the recent (and appropriately named) memoir Permanently Suspended, was permanently banned from Twitter. He has since opened several new accounts in various names that have also eventually been closed. In each case, the reason was that Twitter decided that it disapproved of Cumia’s politically incorrect humor.

Banned: Roger Stone

In October 2017, political consultant Roger Stone, an intimate of President Trump and former advisor of both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, was permanently banned from Twitter after challenging the honesty and intelligence of CNN anchor Don Lemon.

Then, in March of last year, Islam critic Tommy Robinson, one of the most admired men in Britain, was permanently banned from Twitter for violating its “hateful conduct policy.” No specifics were adduced. And this year, in April, when Robinson and popular YouTuber Carl Benjamin were running for the European Parliament, the former as an independent and the latter as a member of UKIP, both their campaign’s Twitter accounts were taken down – an outrageous intrusion by a U.S. firm into a British election.

Indeed, none of the people we’ve mentioned here has engaged in “hateful conduct.” Yes, they’ve engaged in insult humor. They’re mocked their enemies. They’ve participated in what used to be known as vigorous exchanges. In many cases, their opponents on the left have been at least as rough as they’ve been. None of them is racist, antigay, or anything of the kind. In fact Yiannopoulos is gay and married to a black man. But simply by expressing their honestly held views in strong and often witty language, they’ve incurred the wrath of the Twitter gods.

The gatekeeper: Vijaya Gadde

Of course, that wasn’t the line that Jack took on March 5, when he turned up for a second time on Rogan’s podcast, this time bringing along a flunky, Vijaya Gadde, who ended up doing most of Twitter’s talking. Also on the show was independent journalist Tim Pool, who demanded explanations for the permanent bans of Yiannopoulos and others. Every single explanation was lame. Some were downright dishonest. Gadde’s mantra was that Twitter seeks to keep users from being “driven away” from it by “harassment.” But she seemed to think of harassment as something only the left experiences; she seemed oblivious to the left’s endless badgering of conservatives, libertarians, and centrists.

One banned user whose name came up was radical feminist Meghan Murphy, removed for telling an M-F transsexual, in the course of a vigorous discussion, that “men aren’t women.” At Twitter, this counts as “misgendering” and is considered “abuse and harassment.” Rogan’s observation that Murphy was just stating a biological fact didn’t faze Gadde, who came off as an unsettling combination of an oily corporate shill and an icy ideological robot – the kind of ideologue, moreover, who doesn’t even realize she’s an ideologue.

More next week.

Useful Stooges: Banned from Twitter!

What was it, Jack? Was it our criticism of Cuban Communism? Our piece about anti-Semitism in Britain? Our report on the imprisonment on corruption charges of a former Chief Justice of the South Korean Supreme Court?

Was it the fact that we called out would-be spiritual guru Reza Aslan for describing the face of that Covington High School kid, Nick Sandmann, as “punchable”?

Was it our uncomfortable reminder that legendary leftist heroine Angela Davis was, in fact, an accessory to murder and has been a lifelong supporter of totalitarian governments?

Has it been any of our several articles about the devastating impact of socialism on Venezuela?

What was it, Jack Dorsey, that led your company, Twitter, to remove this website’s Twitter feed?

Max Blumenthal

This site, Useful Stooges, has been online since April 2015. As you can read at our “About” page, our focus is largely on “heads of state, from Asia to Africa to Latin America, who practice corruption and oppression on a colossal scale” and on those “who serve them, praise them, and provide them with positive PR even though they know better, or should.”

During our more than four years in operation, we’ve published over 750 posts about such past and current leaders as Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe, Muammar Qaddafi, and Vladimir Putin and on a wide range of their bootlicking admirers, including Oliver Stone, Max Blumenthal, Stella McCartney, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, E.L. Doctorow, Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn, Eric Hobsbawm, and dozens of others.

Eric Hobsbawm

We owe no allegiance to any political party. Without fear or favor, we’ve criticized tyrants of both the left and right. We stand only for individual freedom and human rights, and we stand up against those who oppress, who seek to oppress, or who cheer for oppression. And we deal in facts, not rumors or spin or smears.

Oliver Stone

You wouldn’t think there’d be anything controversial about this. Not in the United States, in the second decade of the twenty-first century. But you’d be wrong. Jack Dorsey, like his counterparts at Facebook and YouTube, has taken on the role of censor. In doing so, he has taken the side of what some have called the “regressive left” and taken it upon himself to stifle its critics.

The alarming fact is that, for all too many Silicon Valley bigwigs, tyranny is an awful thing and those who assail it are doing good work – except, maybe, when it comes to tyranny in Cuba. Or China. Or in the Islamic world. Or in certain other countries and regions, perhaps, where those bigwigs may happen to have great business deals going on.

To be sure, Jack stands apart from the heads of some other social-media giants. When confronted with their hypocrisies, they prefer to retreat behind the walls of their mansions. Jack Dorsey, who encourages Twitter users to think of him just as “Jack” – a buddy, a pal – takes another approach. More on that next week.

The ACLU today: leftism and lies

In our last couple of postings, we’ve been preoccupied with the transformation of the American Civil Liberties Union from an objective defender of free speech and civil liberties into yet another partisan tool for the left. The most prominent critic of this development has been Alan Dershowitz, the high-profile – and liberal – lawyer.

Wendy Kaminer

But Dershowitz hasn’t been alone. In a June article for the Wall Street Journal, Wendy Kaminer – who, like Dershowitz, is a former ACLU board member – cited a leaked memo about the ACLU’s current guidelines for taking on free-speech cases. Under those guidelines, the organization takes into account “the potential effect” of speech limits “on marginalized communities” and the “structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur.” Kaminer shook her head over all this, arguing that such thinking amounts to “a demotion of free speech in the ACLU’s hierarchy of values.”

Megan McArdle

That wasn’t all. On June 26, the Washington Post website ran a piece by Megan McArdle headlined “The ACLU’s divided heart.” McArdle began by paying tribute to the ACLU’s history: “Born out of the prosecutions of antiwar speech during World War I, the American Civil Liberties Union has spent the succeeding decades litigating and lobbying to protect speech rights for everyone, from communists to Nazis. Without the ACLU, Americans wouldn’t have some of the most robust civil liberties in the world.” McArdle also made a point that cannot be considered anything short of vital: “If the ACLU steps back from speech cases, no other organization is ready to pick up the torch, in part because the ACLU is so synonymous with free speech that it attracts much of the donor interest and legal talent in this area.” McArdle then summed up the problematic new guidelines that Kaminer had written about in the Journal.

Nadine Strossen

One might have expected that the leaking of these guidelines to the public would have caused David Cole, the ACLU’s legal director, to miss his stride. But he didn’t. Absurdly, he insisted that these kinds of considerations had entered into decision-making at the ACLU ever since its founding. Nonsense. Nadine Strossen, a former head of the ACLU who has been especially strident lately in her pretense that it’s the same organization it always has been (see, for example, her recent turn on Dave Rubin’s podcast), also stood her ground. But Ira Glasser, Strossen’s predecessor, called B.S. on her: “To deny that this departure from free speech policy is a departure is intellectually dishonest, an Orwellian smokescreen thrown up to obscure what they are doing.” McArdle agreed: the ACLU’s politically drenched new criteria are “inimical to the very ideals the ACLU was founded to protect.” Yep.

The ACLU: not only leftist, but dishonest about it

As we saw last Thursday, the celebrated lawyer Alan Dershowitz, an old-style liberal and former ACLU board member, has charged that organization with no longer being what it used to be – namely, a politically neutral, thoroughly objective defender of freedom of speech. Instead, he maintains, the ACLU is more fixated on opposing Trump than on standing up for the First Amendment.

Susan Herman

Predictably, ACLU officials dismissed Dershowitz’s claims. “I do not personally have any concern that our staff is acting in a partisan manner,” said ACLU president Susan Herman. “We have opposed partisan gerrymandering, for example, whether by Republicans in Wisconsin or Democrats in Maryland.” David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director, defended the ACLU by going on the attack, accusing Dershowitz of focusing “virtually all of his energy on defending the asserted rights of the most powerful man in the U.S. and his personal lawyer.” Neither Herman nor Cole, however, had anything to say about their organization’s curious lack of involvement in one case after another involving the systematic repression of non-leftist speech on American college campuses.

David Cole

Moreover, only weeks after Herman and Cole insisted that the ACLU’s mission remained unchanged, the New Yorker reported, in its issue of June 8, that the organization was, in fact, “getting involved in elections — and reinventing itself for the Trump era.” Having been “fastidiously nonpartisan” for almost a century, the ACLU was now planning “to spend more than 25 million dollars on races and ballot initiatives by Election Day, in November.”

Alan Dershowitz

This announcement could not be seen as anything other than proof that Dershowitz was right – and that Herman and Cole were trying to have their cake and eat it too. As Dershowitz wrote in a June 11 article, today’s ACLU “wears only one shoe, and it is on its left foot….The only dispute is whether it supports the progressive wing of the Democratic Party or its more centrist wing. There is little doubt that most board members today support the progressive wing, though some think that even that wing is not sufficiently left. There is no longer any room in the ACLU for true conservatives who are deeply committed to neutral civil liberties. The litmus test is support for hard-left policies.”

Anthony Romero

We’ve heard from the ACLU’s “president” and from its “national legal director.” It also has a “director.” The man’s name is Anthony Romero, and Dershowitz describes him as a “radical leftist” who “refers to those of us who favor the ACLU traditional mission as ‘the old guard.’” In his June 11 piece, Dershowitz cited another critic of the 2018 version of the ACLU, Ira Glasser, who served as the group’s director from 1978 to 2001 and who now says that the ACLU’s course change “has the capacity to destroy the organization as it has always existed.” That seems to be a mild way of putting it. Dershowitz notes Glasser’s concern that a left-leaning ACLU would ignore violation of civil liberties by fellow leftists – even though, as Dershowitz puts it, “some of the greatest violations of civil liberties throughout history” have come from that quarter, notably FDR’s wartime internment of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans.

As it happens, Dershowitz and Glasser aren’t alone in pointing out – and lamenting – the ACLU’s left turn. More on Thursday.

 

The corrupt new ACLU

We used to admire the ACLU. Some of us are old enough to remember the Skokie affair of 1977. Many Western countries ban Mein Kampf and any symbols of Nazism. Not the U.S. In that year, the American Nazi Party planned a march in the village of Skokie, Illinois. The village successfully sued in Cook County court for the right to ban the event.

Nazis in Skokie

That’s when the American Civil Liberties Union entered the picture. Taking the Nazis’ side, they took the case to the state appellate court and then to the state Supreme Court. Both courts refused to overturn the county court’s decision. So the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a famous ruling ordered that the Nazis be allowed to march.

For some of us, that ruling – as well as the ACLU’s role in bringing it about – was the ultimate reflection of the greatest of America. Not, of course, because the ACLU sided with Nazis or because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Nazis, but because both the ACLU and the Supreme Court stood up for the First Amendment.

By their actions, both the ACLU and the High Court made clear their recognition that the whole point of free-speech protections is that innocuous speech doesn’t need protection. What needs protection is the most extreme kind of speech. To refuse to defend the right of even the most offensive people to speak their minds is to start down the slippery slope toward banning any kind of speech that anybody, anywhere might consider inappropriate.

Alan Dershowitz

Times have changed, alas. Many of the most influential people in American society are would-be censors for whom political correctness is a higher value than freedom. The ACLU, unfortunately, has shifted its position accordingly. No less impressive a personage than Alan Dershowitz, the world-famous lawyer who identifies as a liberal and who used to be on the ACLU’s national board, said so in an April 12 article for The Hill. The headline: “For ACLU, getting Trump trumps civil liberties.” Dershowitz explained: “over the last several years [the ACLU] has turned from being a neutral civil liberties organization to a left wing, agenda-driven group that protects its contributors and constituents while ignoring the civil liberties of Americans with whom it disagrees.”

Now and then, admittedly, the organization still runs to the defense of “a Nazi or a Klansman as an easy, pretend show of its willingness to protect the free speech of the most despicable racists.” But when it comes to threats to free speech on college campuses, where far-left thugs have increasingly used violent means in an effort to silence speakers with whom they disagree, the ACLU has chosen to keep its dainty hands clean. In fact, in Dershowitz’s view, it’s gone even further, “becoming a cheerleader for the violation of the civil liberties of those on the other side of the political spectrum.”

Michael Cohen

When FBI agents “raided the law office and hotel room of Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen,” and possibly “seized material protected by the lawyer-client privilege, including communications between President Trump and his attorney,” the ACLU sat on its hands. “[I]f a similar raid had been conducted on Hillary Clinton,” observed Dershowitz, “had she been elected and a special prosecutor appointed to investigate her emails, the ACLU would have been up in arms.” Instead David Cole, the ACLU’s legal director, actually described the raids as a “sign that the rule of law is alive.” Never mind the fact that, to quote Dershowitz, the raids were naked “violations of the Fourth and Sixth Amendments.”

Why this disgraceful about-face by the ACLU? Simple: “Virtually every contributor to the ACLU voted against Trump, as I did.” And for the ACLU today, “getting Trump, trumps civil liberties.”

The ACLU, naturally, rejects these charges. We’ll get to that on Tuesday.