If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I use the platform the way most people use oxygen. I love getting on there, meeting new people, and starting massive fights with them. But I have a bit of freedom where mouthing off to strangers is concerned. I have a verified account, and that little blue checkmark seems to serve as something of a shield. Despite some of the truly awful things I’ve said to people (and non-people, e.g. white supremacists, MRAs, and the current President of the United States), I’ve never received so much as a twenty-four hour ban. And when I report people, it seems like they’re found in violation of TOS more often than not.
That’s not the case for people like my friend Scarlett Parrish, who recently received a week-long suspension for…
Hurting a Nazi’s feelings.
In an email to me early this morning (which she gave me permission to publicize), Scarlett said:
The other night I tried to sign in and was met with the block screen, telling me my account was limited. I expected it to be another 24-hour “only followers can see your tweets” thing, so clicked ‘continue’ and was met with a message saying my account had been shut down for seven days due to violation of their terms of service. They wanted me to delete a tweet before being able to proceed to my DMs and I’d be unable to tweet, retweet or like for another seven days. All I can do is send and receive DMs. I can’t even adjust my profile for matters of privacy, remove my location and birthdate, that kind of thing.
The tweet they wanted me to delete was in response to an anti-Semite with 34 followers, whose timeline is full of bile against Jews. (They’re taking over Hollywood, they want all our money, the usual racism.) The ‘offensive’ tweet, word for word, was “No wonder your previous account was suspended, you goatfelching ratbastard.”
Before anyone asks, yes, Scarlett is Scottish. She takes pride in the Scottishness of her insults, and this one was fairly mild in comparison to her usual material. She was coarse, she was confrontational, but was she technically in violation of Twitter’s TOS on abuse? Let’s take a look:
“We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up. In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we do not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.
Any accounts and related accounts engaging in the activities specified below may be temporarily locked and/or subject to permanent suspension.
- Violent threats (direct or indirect): You may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism.
- Harassment: You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Some of the factors that we may consider when evaluating abusive behavior include:
- if a primary purpose of the reported account is to harass or send abusive messages to others;
- if the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats;
- if the reported account is inciting others to harass another account; and
- if the reported account is sending harassing messages to an account from multiple accounts.
- 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.
- Multiple account abuse: Creating multiple accounts with overlapping uses or in order to evade the temporary or permanent suspension of a separate account is not allowed.
- Private information: You may not publish or post other people’s private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, street address, or Social Security/National Identity numbers, without their express authorization and permission. In addition, you may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject’s consent. Read more about our private information policy here.
- Impersonation: You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that is intended to or does mislead, confuse, or deceive others. Read more about our impersonation policy here.”
Scarlett Parrish wasn’t making violent threats. The primary purpose of her account isn’t to target or abuse others (the account that reported her, however, is dedicated to spewing antisemitism). The behavior was not “one-sided” and she didn’t incite others to harass the self-professed Nazi. There were no multiple accounts, she didn’t dox or impersonate anyone. But she violated the rules because she somehow made a person who self-identifies as a Nazi to feel silenced.
Keeping the above rules in mind, Scarlett also writes:
I asked Twitter why they did nothing about the guy who tweeted me 40 times in a row to call me a cunt, to say my books were written by a cunt, everyone knows I’m a cunt…and nothing. Why did they do nothing about the guy who threatened to rape me? Nothing. Why did they do nothing about the guy who tried to track down my address and dox me? Nothing.
At the time when I reported those guys, all Twitter said was “The reported accounts do not violate our terms of service,” and said if I was so offended, “We advise you block these accounts.”
Twitter Support can’t explain why tweeting at a woman forty times in one day to call her a cunt isn’t “targeted abuse or harassment.” They can’t explain why threatening to rape a woman isn’t included under, “You may not make threats of violence.” And of course, trying to dox someone doesn’t count as intimidation in an effort silence someone, despite Twitter giving doxing its own dedicated section.
So, what does count as targeted harassment, intimidation, and threat under Twitter’s TOS?
Calling a Nazi a “goat-felching ratbastard.” Clearly, that type of behavior causes more harm than violent misogyny or blatant antisemitism, especially from a user already evading a previous ban from the service:
I keep asking them why they do nothing about abuse, and this is all they say. Apparently doxing, abuse and rape threats are okay, but responding to a Nazi who rages against Jews on Twitter? Why, that’s what’s offensive. His wasn’t even a verified account; he was a known abuser who’d been suspended before and come back with a sockpuppet account.
You will note that there is a section of the rules I quoted that prohibits the creation of such accounts. But they found Scarlett Parrish in violation of the TOS. Not the Nazi whose entire account is dedicated to spreading the antisemitic hate that was presumably the cause of his original ban.
At this time, Scarlett has said she’s unsure if she’ll return to Twitter even after the ban is lifted, but it leaves her in a difficult position. She’s an author, and walking away from Twitter as a platform to publicize new releases and interact with readers is a blow that not many of us could recover from. Others are faced with similar issues; journalists and activists use the platform to follow stories and organize. Some of the biggest stories of 2016 broke on Twitter and were ignored by mainstream media. For many people (myself included), the real-time citizen journalism of Twitter is the way we stay aware of the world around us. Twitter isn’t just social media, it’s educational, professional, and activist media. To leave is to close yourself off from a part of the world, so that’s why we stay.
And Twitter knows that we’ll stay for those reasons. That’s why they’ve written their TOS to appear socially conscious and protective of the free exchange of speech and ideas. But that facade crumbles like a house of cards under scrutiny of this incident and the many others like it. Scarlett Parrish isn’t the first person to be banned from Twitter for hurting the pwecious snowflake fee-fees of a person who advocates for the genocide of an entire race. She isn’t the first person to be told that the threats and abuse they’ve received are just fine by Twitter’s standards.
When Twitter talks about not wanting voices to be silenced and wanting to “ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs”, yet selectively enforces their TOS to favor violent misogynists, self-identified Nazis, and men threatening rape, they make it crystal clear just whose diverse opinions they agree with and strive to promote.
If you’d like to show your support for Scarlett, her latest book release can be found here.