News & Politics

Unevenly Applying Its Rules, Twitter Permanently Bans Breitbart's Nero

2016, right?

For years, one of the main grievances among Twitter users has been the ability for anonymous trolls to send abusive comments to other people on the service.

But on Tuesday, Twitter barred one of the most egregious and consistent offenders of its terms of service, Milo Yiannopoulos, in an attempt to show that it is cracking down on abuse.

The ban against Mr. Yiannopoulos, a technology editor at the conservative news site Breitbart and known by his Twitter handle, @Nero, follows a campaign of prolonged abuse against Leslie Jones, a comedian and co-star of the recently released “Ghostbusters” movie. The film and its stars have come under fire from various parts of the internet for months, after it was first revealed that the reboot of the 1984 film would feature an all-female cast.

Ms. Jones in particular has borne the brunt of the online abuse in recent days, especially since the release of “Ghostbusters” in the United States on Friday. Hundreds of anonymous Twitter commenters hurled racist and sexist remarks at the star’s Twitter account, rallied and directed by Mr. Yiannopoulos this week. The news media picked up on the abuse after Ms. Jones began retweeting screenshots of the litany of comments sent to her over the past few days.

On Monday evening, Ms. Jones quit using Twitter with a final message of exasperation after days of near-nonstop abuse. “I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart,” Ms. Jones tweeted. “All this cause I did a movie.”

In a statement, a Twitter spokesman said: “People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.”

I don’t know Milo, and we didn’t interact on Twitter. I do, however, know several people who know him. He is, to put it mildly, a polarizing figure. He may very well have violated Twitter’s terms of service, or he may have merely upset a celebrity, which in turn upset Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who falls all over himself for Hollywood lefties.

My problem with this is that Twitter doesn’t apply its rules in an even fashion. At all.

I have been heavily involved in Twitter since early 2009. I have a lot of followers and I tweet a lot. This all began in the early tea party days, when those of us involved in the movement around the country used Twitter to stay in touch. As my presence has grown there, it has essentially become my unpaid publicist. I say all this to establish that I perhaps pay more attention to what goes on there than the average person.

In the last seven years I have seen conservatives, especially conservative women, repeatedly threatened and harassed, occasionally even receiving death threats. I have endured coordinated troll attacks and received death threats. A liberal troll was harassing me and saying awful things about my daughter while she was in surgery. The day Andrew Breitbart died, a liberal troll who knew he was a friend of mine tweeted me and said, “I hope you have a heart attack like your buddy Breitbart.”

So, yeah, it can be a nasty place.

The problem is that Dorsey and the rest of the Twitter brass don’t care if it’s nasty to conservatives.

Earlier this year, Twitter set up a “Trust and Safety Council” to police speech on the platform. The council looks like a Who’s Who of groups Bill Ayers sends checks to every year. The makeup of the council makes it more than obvious just who Twitter is policing and trying to keep people safe from.

Twitter can set up its own rules and get rid of whomever it wants. However, when its founder prattles on about “freedom of expression” he needs to grab a pair of big boy pants and realize two things: free expression hurts feelings and any parameters governing it need to apply to everyone.

I’m certain Ms. Jones received some vile tweets. Twitter does happen to feature handy “mute” and “block” features which most of us employ frequently. I ignore huge chunks of my mentions column when I know the bots or the trolls are out in force. There’s a little responsibility on the part of the user too.

Had she been a female pro-life activist with people savaging her looks and life choices, however, Jack Dorsey would have let the harassment continue unabated, no matter how coordinated and incessant.