In the first concerted attack on social media accounts belonging to alt-right personalities, Twitter has banned several of the most prominent members who associate themselves with the alt-right movement.
At the top of the list is Richard Spencer, president and director of the National Policy Institute, a think tank that focuses on white nationalism and other issues. Spencer’s personal account, business account, and the account of his online publication were all suspended in the free speech crackdown.
Paul Town, one of the alt-right trolls responsible for feeding Olivia Nuzzi at The Daily Beast a false and outlandish narrative on how Pepe the cartoon frog came to be associated with white nationalism, was also suspended.
Other suspended users, among many, include Pax Dickinson, Ricky Vaughn and John Rivers — all notable alt-right accounts.
Several Twitter users noted that the mass bans could be a result of new reporting features the company added to prevent “hate against a race, religion, gender, or orientation,” as part of a policy change.
The move by Twitter threatens to diminish the explosive power of the alt-right, which has made use of Twitter to brutally troll journalists and political pundits, in addition to supporting Trump and spreading its political philosophy in front of millions of people.
Just last week, Amelia Tait at New Statesman noted that the alt-right’s influence has surged, largely in part due to its use of social media networks. As she put it, the “alt-right – a new political movement of individuals with racist and misogynist viewpoints, who exist primarily on the internet – have thrived under Trump’s candidacy, and remained mostly unchecked by social media giants.”
Tait argued that social media giants need to “improve the way they deal with trolls, vitriol, and death threats on their sites.”
Charlie Warzel at BuzzFeed News recently made the case that Twitter was essential to Trump’s wildly successful campaign and has also resulted in the “empowerment of the insurgent political movement of the alt-right who, through a coordinated effort of trolling and online organization, drove enthusiasm and momentum against the establishment and for Trump.”
While Twitter has in the past slowly cracked down on accounts near the alt-right, such as those of WeSearchr CEO Chuck Johnson and journalist Milo Yiannopoulos, the major purge Tuesday evening of prominent alt-right accounts is so far unprecedented.
In response to the purges, many alt-right users are heading over to Gab, a Twitter substitute platform with a much more aggressive free speech policy.
One reason for the purge could be new new guidelines on hate speech initiated by Twitter:
Our hateful conduct policy prohibits specific conduct that targets people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. Today we’re giving you a more direct way to report this type of conduct for yourself, or for others, whenever you see it happening. This will improve our ability to process these reports, which helps reduce the burden on the person experiencing the abuse, and helps to strengthen a culture of collective support on Twitter.
I find it ridiculously easy to avoid the hate and vitriol coming from social media or the comments section at PJ Media: I usually don’t read the stuff that others write about me — especially if I know it’s going to be controversial. It’s like changing the channel on the TV: if you disapprove of nudity or excessive violence, switch over or switch off. No one is making you watch that stuff so change the channel if it bugs you. Refusing to give life to the hateful thoughts of others by ignoring them is a far more efficacious solution to the problem than stifling free speech.
That’s why this purge is wrong. From what I’ve seen from the alt-right, many of the most hateful trolls cannot possibly be serious. I suspect that many who identify as alt-right are in fact nothing more than people who want to watch the world burn. They deliberately court and provoke controversy for controversy’s sake. And if they are, indeed, serious, how can anyone let someone so profoundly ignorant upset them so? My pet cat Snowball has more brains than some of these people and to allow yourself to take their criticism seriously — well, it’s your own fault if you’re offended.
Aside from the nauseating stench of white supremacism in the writings of some people who identify as alt-right, many of their positions are, if not mainstream, hardly earth shattering. Opposing all immigration is not hate speech. Opposing political correctness shouldn’t even be controversial except for the fact that the power it allows leftists to exercise is diminished. Excessive economic nationalism may be foolhardy but it’s not hate.
Whatever the alt-right is — and I have yet to hear a cogent, coherent explanation of principles that would allow people to identify with it — it shouldn’t be banned or purged anywhere. Nobody talks about banning Marxism or black nationalism from the internet. Until they do, the alt-right deserves to be heard — even at its most virulently racist and hateful worst.