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Bloomberg: Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos and Twitter in Standoff

From Joshua Brustein writing at Bloomberg:

Twitter removed the blue check mark that signals a user’s authenticity from the account of Milo Yiannopoulos, a writer for Breitbart whose tweets about women’s issues have made him a symbol of the battle over noxious speech online. But if Twitter’s intent was to make him less visible, its plan may have backfired.

Yiannopoulos is probably one of Twitter’s least favorite users. He has become a mouthpiece for the so-called Gamergate movement, whose attacks on women have played a key role in turning online harassment into a major issue for Silicon Valley companies. Yiannopoulos expresses views that are widely seen as sexist or racist, and is a regular picker of Twitter fights. His tweets aren’t singularly objectionable, say his critics, but because of his prominence they serve to identify targets for dozens of other Twitter users to take aim at for abuse. In Twitter terms, this phenomenon is known as dogpiling. Soraya Chemaly, a feminist activist who has pushed Twitter to deal with harassment on its platform, describes this as a form of incitement that didn’t exist before social media. “The systems aren’t built for that kind of amplification,” she said.

For now this looks like a lose-lose for Twitter.  It’s brought on all the negative attention of censorship while also increasing the prominence of someone it thinks is behaving inappropriately. Chemaly says the company is putting itself into a difficult situation, especially because it hasn’t explained what Yiannopoulos did wrong. As a guide for other people who are near the threshold the company is trying to set, the move against Yiannopoulos is useless. “It doesn’t really send a clear message to anyone about what the standards are. It’s not a reproducible or predictable decision,” she said.

Twitter and Yiannopoulos are now in a standoff of sorts. After warning him, Twitter has to be more sensitive to any further provocations. “Twitter is probably waiting now for me to really lose it and say something awful (by their imaginary standards) so they can ban me,”  Yiannopoulos said. “But they must know it will have to be a HORRIFIC statement — of the sort I simply don’t make.”

Yiannopoulos seems poised to walk right up whatever line Twitter is setting, even though he doesn’t know exactly where it is. In doing so, he’s essentially daring the company to move further. Now that it has started a fight with one of its most combative users, Twitter has raised the stakes for coming up with an endgame.

Read the rest of the story at Bloomberg.


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