Following Twitter’s permanent suspension of Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos, even the left-leaning, Vox Media-owned tech site The Verge has questioned the reasoning behind their decision.
Despite a predictable platitude about Milo cultivating a following of “hateful trolls,” The Verge focuses its criticism squarely on Twitter, pointing out that Yiannopoulos did not, as Twitter claimed, direct his followers to attack Leslie Jones, nor single her out in his review of Ghostbusters.
The article goes on to suggest that the only reason Twitter was so quick to act may have been because it was a celebrity who complained:
Yiannopoulos’ tweets were deleted when the account was pulled, and Twitter didn’t provide examples of the targeted abuse or harassment he was banned over. His Ghostbusters review, while negative, didn’t single out Jones, and he wasn’t directly responsible for the more egregious messages she got. So was he suspended over a specific tweet, like the screenshots? Did Twitter decide his gloating was encouraging her harassers? After years of complaints over generally trollish behavior, did Twitter just decide enough was enough?
Consequently, we can’t tell if Yiannopoulos finally crossed a clear line, or if Twitter is only paying attention because the abuse hit a celebrity like Leslie Jones. We can’t examine or dismiss Yiannopoulos’ long-standing claim that he’s been targeted for his conservative views. We can’t know what kind of harassment reports Twitter will take seriously when people besides Jones submit them.
The Verge went on to argue that Twitter bans are serious and should not be dismissed out of hand.
Obviously, a Twitter ban is orders of magnitude less serious than a criminal conviction, whatever the pro-Yiannopoulos #FreeMilo hashtag implies. But it’s not nothing. Just as we shouldn’t tell harassment victims to “just log off” the internet, we shouldn’t pretend that being kicked off a platform with millions of users doesn’t cut you off from some part of modern public life, and Twitter should be careful with the power it’s got.