A conservative lawyer from Pennsylvania has had his Twitter account, an essential part of promoting his practice, suspended multiple times with no explanation.
Josh Smith, a Cornell graduate who runs a private legal practice in Pennsylvania, had his account “@ThisIsJoshSmith” suspended and then restored five times over the course of six months, without any explanation from Twitter. This led Smith to believe that his suspensions were “false positives” – a flaw in the platform’s algorithms.
Then, almost a year later, after accumulating approximately 3,000 followers and 70,000 tweets, Smith’s account was suspended permanently — again, with no explanation of what specific rule he had violated. A month later, Twitter also shut down his parody accounts, “@SalonNotCom” and “@MutterJones” — despite the fact that the platform allows for multiple accounts, provided they are not used for the same purpose.
To this day, Smith still doesn’t know why he was suspended. “I don’t threaten people, “dox” people, abuse or harass people, or spam people” says Smith. “If one were to scrutinize every single one of my 70,000 tweets, one could reach no other possible conclusion. I’m *that certain* I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Eventually, Smith did violate Twitter’s rules — by creating a backup account, @Ebolamerican. That account was suspended too — although not for violating the site’s rules on creating multiple accounts for the same purpose, but for “targeted abuse,” a charge Smith denies. The account was also allowed to exist until it reached 3,000 followers, a fact Smith considers suspect.
“This happened the last time I reached 3,000 followers, too. As soon as they see you’re starting to have influence, they shut you down, and you have to start over from scratch. This account wasn’t ever suspended before, either, so they went from nothing to permanent suspension. That’s crazy.”
Josh Smith comes across as polite, mild-mannered, and intellectual. He publishes long, thoughtful posts on politics, the law and society on his personal website, which only rarely descend to personal attacks. If he wasn’t a conservative, he’d be the last person you’d expect to have had his Twitter account suspended multiple times.
But of course, Twitter is a company that will stand by while a gay conservative journalist is deluged with bomb threats from homophobic Muslims — and then opts to ban the gay conservative journalist instead.
There may well be a legitimate reason for Smith’s multiple suspensions. But Twitter won’t tell him, or us, what specific tweets led to his suspension. Such an opaque system not only makes the appeal of suspensions near-impossible, but leaves everyone guessing as to whether suspensions have been made for legitimate reasons. And with Twitter’s track record of bizarre, poorly-justified punishment of conservative accounts, there is every reason to be suspicious.