In Shakespearean times, cuckolds were referred to as “he who has horns” — an issue everyone else can see, that’s not obvious to them. Everyone else sees his shame immediately, but the cuckold can only tell by looking closely in a mirror. Perhaps the same is true for censors, who insist that they adore free speech while mercilessly trampling it at the slightest opportunity.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, whom I wouldn’t even right-swipe on Grindr (ironically one of the few social platforms left without Orwellian speech suppression), recently made a visit to The Today Show where he firmly proclaimed that his site doesn’t censor its users. Dorsey made his extraordinary statement following Matt Lauer’s claim that his Twitter followers named censorship as one of the most important issues facing the social media platform.
Jack is the CEO of two companies, and bad at running both, but Twitter has really been the worst of his two failures. Imagine taking a company from the “free speech wing of the free speech party” to shadowbanning, politically motivated de-verifications and banning “problematic” accounts (usually conservative or libertarian).
Since Dorsey returned to the company that he considers his “first born son,” the site has transformed from the public’s megaphone into the public’s muzzle. He’s calmly drowning free speech in the bathtub while adding unwanted features like algorithmic timelines and sponsored tweets.
Dorsey, who once was fired from his role as Twitter’s chief executive for an obsession with hot yoga and shirt-making, noted that Twitter only censors speech that “promotes violence.” Of course, this fails to explain my own unverification, Twitter’s rampant shadow-banning, and the suspension of Adam Baldwin over innocuous tweets that were interpreted as insults by easily-offended snowflakes. It seems Dorsey weaves fibs and half-truths as enthusiastically as he weaves straight-cut hemp outerwear.
Verified Twitter accounts are given to significant individuals (like me) who are likely to be impersonated on the platform. I’m probably the most impersonated person on the internet who isn’t Beyoncé. The blue check society is a club to which I once belonged, but since Twitter has revealed its willingness to censor and “shadowban,” it’s a club I’m a lot less interested in rejoining.
If Dorsey won’t address his platform’s blatant bias, he might one day have to answer to the courts. On March 4, I asked White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest about the role that President Obama might play in reminding social media platforms about the importance of protecting free expression.
Earnest made it clear the President believes that the success of social media platforms is “predicated on the important protection of First Amendment rights to self-expression.” He also recommended that Twitter users who feel aggrieved by the platform’s policies should turn to lawsuits as a response. I’m betting that’s a future the site’s investors, already worried by the company’s tanking stock value, would want to avoid.
Although Twitter’s appeal for many has been the absence of internal algorithms that control what you see and what you don’t see, Dorsey and co. in a recent change added a platform-wide filter that aims to weed out harassment and abuse. Jack, do you find conservative and libertarian thought so radical and fringe that its mere existence is on par with actual harassment and abuse? Do you think a gay conservative with an opinion is too dangerous to be legitimized on social media with your coveted blue check mark?
If Twitter really isn’t interested in ideological censorship, as Dorsey claims, then they should launch an immediate crackdown on employees who are. They should start with Michael Margolis, the man who allegedly asked his bosses at Twitter to unverify me and was pictured with feminist games critic Anita Sarkeesian just a few weeks later, donning his best in Sarkeesian apparel.
Does Twitter believe his political sympathies had nothing to do with his determination to target my account?
— ᴄᴀᴘᴛᴀɪɴ ᴘʀɪᴠɪʟᴇɢᴇ (@Capt_Privilege) February 6, 2016
Twitter might not have had to go the censorious route if it properly managed and staffed its in-house anti-abuse team like the grown-up social networks do, instead of farming it out to feminist groups like “Women, Action and Media” and the laughably ideological “Trust and Safety” council.
Twitter desperately needs to improve its user experience to revive flagging numbers, but it won’t invest in basic necessities like employing enough staff with time to deal with contextual issues of speech. Twitter hoards its cash like a bad landlord ignoring necessary repairs — kicking out the people who make legitimate complaints and rewarding the snitches. It has become an Orwellian paradise.
That isn’t to say that the censorship attempts of Twitter employees are ever particularly effective. In the 24 hours following the change, I gained 7,000 new followers, and #JeSuisMilo trended in the U.S., Canada, and in the U.K. Someone should tell them to find a more effective way to fulfil their virtual book-burning fantasies.
It hasn’t just been me who has been on the receiving end of Twitter’s censoring spree. Hollywood actor Adam Baldwin called for Jack’s resignation from his chief executive post after conservative blogger Robert Stacy McCain was suspended from the platform without reason.
“They are very good at hiding whatever algorithms they have,” said Baldwin at the time. “They don’t explain themselves and they are not transparent. The onus is on Twitter to explain exactly why they ban people. It’s their company. I just choose not to participate in the suppression of ideas any more.”
Even Slate’s Amanda Hess has taken to criticizing Twitter for its double standard, after they suspended controversial provocateur Chuck C. Johnson. Meanwhile, as Twitter employees scrambled to rid the site of anti-feminist thought and humour, in 2015 nearly 50,000 accounts were held by active members of the Islamic State.
I’m not so sure why Jack Dorsey refuses to understand that Twitter’s demise is inevitable if they don’t allow society’s most significant, compelling and attractive individuals — like me! — to use the platform to freely express themselves. This cautionary warning doesn’t just come from me, but from President Obama too.
Speaking of politicians, it’s worth noting that Dorsey’s aspirations include becoming mayor of New York City. The social media guru who decides restricts content on his platform would feel right at home running a city that places restrictions on the size of your soda cup.
Still, politics can be difficult if you have a string of business failures behind you. As the social media platform’s stock price continues to plummet and advertisers continue to flee, maybe Dorsey will realize that taking away my check mark was the first step towards the death of his first born. Still, it could be worse for Jack. At least he’s not Nick Denton.