A trend or just coincidence?
Twitter, an invaluable news aggregator when properly run and used, has seemingly taken aim at conservatives and those advocating conservative causes.
In early January, Twitter stripped Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos (@Nero on Twitter) of his “verification,” saying he violated the anti-harassment Terms of Service.
I've been sat on the naughty table! pic.twitter.com/2ppJ3X4J62
— Milo Yiannopoulos ✘ (@Nero) January 8, 2016
A verified account means the user has a little blue checkmark next to his or her user name. It is Twitter’s way of affirming to all other users that this is, in fact, the person he or she claims to be. It sounds like a small thing, but Twitter, like so much social media, is rife with accounts purporting to be or that just look like a real public figure.
That verification checkmark tells all the other users that a particular account is the real thing. Having a verified account can be a big draw and boost followers who are otherwise reluctant to be suckered or drawn in by fakes. Stripping verification takes that mark of legitimacy away. It is also a sort of peculiar way to punish violations of terms of service. Assuming @Nero actually violated the terms of service, is the account somehow no longer Yiannopoulos’s?
Of course not. More important, it is not at all obvious that @Nero violated the terms of service at all. Stipulate that he is a troll who relishes destroying the Left’s sacred cows and laughs at the resulting discomfiture. Stipulate even that it’s really not nice and consciously deprives people of their “safe spaces.” So what? Five minutes on twitter reveals death threats by and against every possible demographic. Terror accounts proliferate. Anti-Semitism is rampant.
Leaving these accounts untouched but de-verifying a public figure like @Nero for violating the Terms of Service in the course of his public persona is nonsensical. Other Twitter methods for stifling anti-PC thought have come to light.
Yiannopoulos reported this week:
Rumours that Twitter has begun ‘shadowbanning’ politically inconvenient users have been confirmed by a source inside the company, who spoke exclusively to Breitbart Tech. His claim was corroborated by a senior editor at a major publisher.
According to the source, Twitter maintains a ‘whitelist’ of favoured Twitter accounts and a ‘blacklist’ of unfavoured accounts. Accounts on the whitelist are prioritised in search results, even if they’re not the most popular among users. Meanwhile, accounts on the blacklist have their posts hidden from both search results and other users’ timelines.
Our source was backed up by a senior editor at a major digital publisher, who told Breitbart that Twitter told him it deliberately whitelists and blacklists users. He added that he was afraid of the site’s power, noting that his tweets could disappear from users’ timelines if he got on the wrong side of the company.
Shadowbanning, sometimes known as “Stealth Banning” or “Hell Banning,” is commonly used by online community managers to block content posted by spammers. Instead of banning a user directly (which would alert the spammer to their status, prompting them to create a new account), their content is merely hidden from public view. . .
However, Twitter isn’t merely targeting spammers. For weeks, users have been reporting that tweets from populist conservatives, members of the alternative right, cultural libertarians, and other anti-PC dissidents have disappeared from their timelines.
This troubling news [about shadow banning] comes shortly after Twitter leadership announced an Orwellian “Trust and Safety Council,” which is stacked with leftist anti-speech activists. Instead of groups like the Electronic Freedom Foundation or the Cato Institute, the council invited Feminist Frequency and the Dangerous Speech Project. The latter organizations lead the growing movement to silence politically incorrect thought on campuses and online.
Just last night, Robert Stacy McCain (@rsmccain) had his account suspended.
McCain is a conservative blogger who has keyed on the decline of campus culture generally and in particular due process for defendants in campus sexual assault allegations. He is also a vocal critic of Twitter’s de-verification of @Nero’s account.
Taken together this paints a concerning picture. The Trust and Safety Council is a dressed up censorship board and will provide cover if and when Twitter shutting down or diminishing disfavored accounts.
UPDATE: Robert Stacy McCain responds to the suspension of his Twitter account, The #FreeStacy Story: Why Was My @rsmccain Account Suspended?
UPDATE 2: Commentary Editor John Podhoretz (@JPodhoretz) reports that he has also lost his little blue verification mark.
My Verified blue check is gone! IT'S GONE!!!!!!
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) February 20, 2016
Follow Jonathan Levin on Twitter @JNLevin