“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Have the social justice warriors at Twitter even seen Star Wars? If so, they would have done well to remember Obi-Wan Kenobi’s famous line. Or they might simply have learned about the Streisand Effect, where attempts to contain the spread of information — whether by overt censorship or intimidation — only cause it to spread faster.
Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos has been the beneficiary of the Streisand Effect over the past few weeks, gaining 20,000 new Twitter followers in the wake of Twitter’s attempt to “punish” him by briefly suspending him and by removing his “verified” status on the platform. If this is punishment, I wonder what Twitter’s rewards look like.
Yiannopoulos had approximately 120,000 Twitter followers at Christmas, prior to a brief suspension for jokily pretending to be a “Social Justice Editor” at Buzzfeed, and the more recent removal of his blue “verified” checkmark by Twitter, for which the company will not give an explanation.
Over the past few days that number has increased at a lightning-fast pace, buoyed by an outpouring of indignation from his fans about Twitter using a mechanism for identity verification as a sort of ideological weapon. The “#JeSuisMilo” hashtag trended globally.
Feminists and progressives at The Huffington Post and elsewhere were quick to celebrate the removal of Yiannopoulos’s check mark. But they were foolish to do so. Yiannopoulos already had a small army of hyper-dedicated followers at his disposal. Now, their numbers are growing — and they also consider themselves part of an uprising against political bias at Twitter.
In short, Twitter’s shot across Breitbart Tech’s bow has had the opposite effect to the one intended. Yiannopoulos continues to add hundreds of followers to his digital army per hour, and Twitter is suffering a wave of negative media coverage and user discontent.
The company has also picked the worst time to embroil itself in controversy. With its stock price at an all-time low, Twitter can’t afford to lose so much time (the fracas has now dragged on all weekend) of useful network time to a row that is mostly to do with the political hangups of a few aggrieved social justice warriors amongst the company’s employees.