Twitter Targets Trolls but Winds Up Silencing Conservatives

Robby Soave, New York Post, February 23, 2016

When Twitter sanctioned popular right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos last month for bad behavior, conservatives were concerned. Two weeks ago, when the social media platform picked a bunch of leftist groups to write its new harassment policies, they grew worried.

Now, in the wake of Twitter’s recent decision to ban conservative blogger Robert Stacy McCain, is it time for full-fledged panic?

There’s no telling what Twitter’s endgame is, but it’s unlikely to be good for users who don’t want the company to enforce overly broad harassment and hate-speech policies at the expense of open dialogue.

McCain, the latest high-profile pundit to run afoul of Twitter’s vague prohibitions on abusive behavior, is a controversial figure. Many would find his passionate denunciations of liberals–feminists, in particular–offensive, even vile (I know I do). But there’s a considerable difference between using Twitter to harshly criticize opponents and using it to harass them or incite others to violence. I’ve yet to see a compelling case that McCain crossed that line.

Why did he get the boot, then? Twitter recently formed the Orwellian-named “Trust and Safety Council” to propose changes to the company’s use policies. The goal, according to a press release, was to find a middle ground between permitting broad free speech and restricting actual abuse.

But practically none of the 40 people chosen to be part of the council are all that concerned about free speech. In fact, most of them work for anti-harassment groups and seem likely to recommend further limitations on online expression.

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What should conservatives do? What they’re already doing: speak up, and loudly. Shortly after McCain was shown the door, people who want the platform to be more open to free expression organized a #FreeStacy hashtag.

Twitter, to its shame, soon suppressed the hashtag.

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As Popehat blogger and lawyer Ken White argued, “I classify Twitter’s action as bad customer service and as private speech I don’t like because of my conservative views.” When a company has bad customer service, the best solution is often to defect.

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