As the Harvey Weinstein scandal grew from a whisper to a chorus, actor Rose McGowan became a figurehead for women who had been vicitimised by him. McGowan began tweeting her experience, and calling out men who, having either turned a blind eye to Weinstein’s behaviour or engaged in inappropriate conduct themselves, now expressed shock and disgust.
Last night, her account was suspended for 12 hours. The Twitter safety account explained that she had tweeted a private phone number, which violated their terms of service. The offending tweet was deleted and the suspension lifted.
So just what gets you banned or suspended from Twitter. More to the point, what doesn’t?
Inappropriate or sensitive content
Of course, part of the issue is simply the language of Twitter’s rules. It’s difficult to establish objective criteria for what counts as inappropriate — and the examples Twitter provides don’t necessarily clear things up. While there may be a “reasonable person test” one could use to decide if content is “threatening” or “abusive”, what makes content “shocking, disturbing, offensive, vulgar or obscene” depends on who is viewing it.
This can be particularly messy if it takes on a political edge — several anti-abortion campaigners have had their accounts suspended or their posting abilities limited for breaching the sensitive content rules with their promotional material.
This policy was introduced in November 2016 in response to long-running criticism that harassment and trolling wasn’t sufficiently regulated. The rules define hateful conduct thus:
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Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.
Examples of what we do not tolerate includes, but is not limited to behavior that harasses individuals or groups of people with:
wishes for the physical harm, death, or disease of individuals or groups;
references to mass murder, violent events, or specific means of violence in which/with which such groups have been the primary targets or victims;
behavior that incites fear about a protected group;
repeated and/or or non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes, or other content that degrades someone.
However, these rules have still opened the door to accusations of hypocrisy. Twitter gives itself a broad escape plan by specifying in the guidelines that “context matters”:
“Some Tweets may seem to be abusive when viewed in isolation, but may not be when viewed in the context of a larger conversation. While we accept reports of violations from anyone, sometimes we also need to hear directly from the target to ensure that we have proper context.”
After events like the suspension of McGowan, many users accuse the site of a double standard.
One would think harassment would be a relatively high bar to clear. For example, sour-faced ventriloquist dummy come to life and stain on humanity Martin Shkreli was temporarily suspended after he helmed a campaign aimed at journalist Lauren Duca. After she replied that she would rather “eat [her] own organs” in response to his invite to Donald Trump’s inauguration as United States President, he created a website called MarryMeLauren.com and changed his profile picture and banner image to photoshopped images of the two of them together, as well several other images of Duca. He has since been permanently suspended, although it’s unclear if that is the reason, or just that he disrespected the Wu-Tang Clan.
But you can also be banned for expressing a desires for a cereal mascot. A 30 year old Twitter user got his account suspended after tweeting at Frosties mascot Tony the Tiger (who, yes, has a twitter account, because of course) that he’d “fuck that tiger”. This was made all the more bizarre by the many tweets of a sexual nature Tony’s account receives (he’s a favourite among “furries” and if you’re not sure what that is, we wouldn’t recommend you look up on your work computer).
Promoting terrorism and election meddling
In a far less controversial move, Twitter suspended more than 600, 000 accounts for “promotion of terrorism” and at the end of September told congressional investigators it had suspended 201 Russian-linked accounts tied to political Facebook adverts during the 2016 presidential campaign. Democratic Senator Mark Warner accused Twitter of having no sense of “how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions and again begs many more questions than they offered”.
There is an obvious elephant in the room in all this — the tweeter in chief, who has incited harassment, approvingly shared depictions of violence against women and, you know, just about declared war over the micro blogging site. However, Twitter takes into account “newsworthiness” when deciding whether to ban users. By that criteria, Donald Trump will have a free pass for quite some time.