Andrew Gleason is an autistic webcomic writer who goes by the name “Otter Jesus” on Twitter. He spends a lot of time brightening up social media with pictures of otters. Or at least he did, until Twitter perma-suspended his account.
Twitter told Gleason that he had been suspended for a “violent threat,” and screenshots of his old tweets do indeed show that he sometimes engaged in what can only be described as “4chan-esque” humor, including a joke about shooting up a tabletop gaming convention. If that Twitter did indeed ban Gleason for the tongue-in-cheek tweet, then it’s akin to the bizarre trial of Paul Chambers, a harmless London barrister who was put on criminal trial for joking about blowing up an airport.
Gleason claims that Twitter merely used his tweets as a pretext, however. In the days leading up to his suspension, he received several false copyright claims from a feminist artist, Rebecca Cohen a.k.a “Gynostar,” who Gleason was parodying in his webcomic series. According to Gleason, Twitter warned him that he would be suspended if he continued to parody her work, despite the fact that parodies are protected under copyright exception laws. It wouldn’t be the first time that Twitter has mysteriously put an account on lockdown over spurious feminist complaints.
Because Twitter never comments on the reasons for suspending accounts, finding out the true reason behind their actions is, for now, impossible.
Even if Twitter were given the benefit of the doubt, however, and the feminist’s complaints had nothing to do with Gleason’s suspension, their actions still raise questions. Twitter has allowed entirely non-humorous threats of political violence to remain on the platform when such threats come from progressives. And, as reported last month, death threats against Republican senators remained on the platform for weeks without being deleted.
Yet Gleason, who has autism, was (allegedly) banned for making a poor taste joke. Not only does this raise questions about where Twitter places its priorities, but it also suggests the company is completely incapable of judging context, or correcting punishments that are the result of misunderstandings.
Until Twitter takes context into account when enforcing its terms, then autistic people like Gleason, who are particularly prone to being misunderstood, or inadvertently breaking social conventions, are going to be particularly vulnerable to unfair suspension.
It’s also worth noting that Twitter’s suspension of Gleason, who raises money for autism charities, severely hampers his fundraising abilities. Although he gained some exposure from the controversy, he now has to rebuild his social media following from scratch. It’s a good example of how social media suspensions, unfair or otherwise, can have a financial impact on an individual.
But even non-autistic people are at risk from Twitter’s inability to take context into account. As Gleason says, “a friend could say, “I’m gonna kill you” and they could be suspended for that because the ToS doesn’t say jokes like that are violent threats.”
Of course, all this is giving Twitter the benefit of the doubt. It’s entirely possible that they’re just looking for excuses to suspend people who manage to offend the wrong feminist, or the wrong progressive activist.