January 9, 2016 Leave a comment
The conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos has been unverified by Twitter. Since Yiannopoulos seems to have been unverified for not following the rules of Twitter, I’m going to say a little about why this is a bad move by Twitter, and then examine the rules.
Being unverified means that a little blue badge somewhere on Yiannopoulos’s profile that nobody ever noticed before is no longer present. Verification is also supposed to be some sort of confirmation that you are who you claim to be. This status is only for a person famous enough that somebody might want to steal his identity. Verified status can be revoked if you’re an impostor, or you break the rules of Twitter. Since Yiannopoulos has not been replaced by a cylon or whatever, he must have broken the rules. Twitter have not explained the nature of the alleged violation to the best of my knowledge.
I disagree with Yiannopoulos on at least two issues I’m aware of, but I think the unverification is a bad and silly move on Twitter’s part. Twitter’s value depends on it being a network where people can post ideas, or at least links to ideas. If Twitter are going to try to punish people who post a lot of controversial stuff then they are damaging the reason people want to be there. And the fact that somebody is posting controversial material means there is some live issue that people don’t understand and want to discuss. Discouraging people from posting such material gets in the way of progress on that issue. In this context, discouraging such discussion on Twitter is wrong. Twitter have the right to do whatever they want with their platform, including ban everybody who isn’t a Leninist if they so desire, but not every exercise of your rights is good. I could pour a can of baked beans on my head and walk down the street, but I don’t think it would be a good idea. Twitter’s unverification of Nero is at least as stupid as pouring a can of baked beans on your head.
But what are the rules and how can you avoid breaking them to avoid the savage punishment of the revocation of your blue blobby status? The first rule seems sensible:
You may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism.
Yiannopoulos hasn’t broken this rule to the best of my knowledge. There is another rule that is the same as the first rule, except that it is less general:
You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.
The first quoted rule says that you can’t threaten or promote violence. The second quoted rule says you can’t threaten or promote violence on a variety of bases. So the second rule is a more restricted version of the first. The first rule covers the case in which I threaten to kill you because you are wearing a pair of trainers, the second rule doesn’t.
One of the other rules is more troubling:
Harassment: You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Some of the factors that we may consider when evaluating abusive behaviour include:
if a primary purpose of the reported account is to harass or send abusive messages to others
if the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats;
This rule doesn’t explain what counts as harassment or abuse. And people may disagree about what constitutes harassment or abuse. So how are such disputes to be decided? No explanation is given.
Even more bizarre is the qualification about reported behaviour being “one-sided”. What does this mean? Does it mean if I tweet at somebody and he doesn’t reply, then I’m in trouble with Twitter? Does it mean if I make a case for policy A, and not for an opposing policy, then that is a banning offence? Either reading of this qualification could lead to anybody being banned for just about any statement or tweet. I can’t see any way this rule could be read that would make it acceptable.
Twitter should change their rules, and stop trying to stifle discussion.