On Saturday, Twitter suspended Candace Owens for encouraging Michiganders to return to work, regardless of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.)’s decrees. Social media companies have partnered with local governments to support coronavirus restrictions. Whitmer, however, issued a new declaration of emergency this week after the Michigan legislature refused to extend her previous emergency declaration. The declaration is the basis for her stay-at-home orders.
“Apparently [Gretchen Whitmer] believes she is a duly elected dictator of a socialist country,” Owens had tweeted. “The people of Michigan need to stand up to her. Open your businesses. Go to work. The police think she’s crazy too. They are not going to arrest 10,000,000 people for going to work.”
Benny Johnson, chief creative officer at Turning Point USA, shared an email Owens received, suggesting that Twitter would not give a reason for suspending her.
“Candace Owens has been suspended from Twitter. Candace tweeted that people in Michigan should go back to work. What rule did she break? Not even Twitter can say,” Johnson tweeted. “Candace Owens tells people to work and gets cancelled but AOC can tell people *not* to work and all good,” he added, referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) calling for a strike as soon as coronavirus lockdowns end.
Candace Owens has been suspended from Twitter.
Candace tweeted that people in Michigan should go back to work.
What rule did she break?
Not even Twitter can say.
Candace Owens tells people to work and gets cancelled but AOC can tell people *not* to work and all good pic.twitter.com/4tCH3ibUcW
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) May 2, 2020
A Twitter spokesperson gave Robby Starbuck a reason for the suspension — Owens violated the orders of the woman she called a “dictator.”
“So I just spoke to Twitter about their suspension of Candace Owens. They say the tweet violates their terms of service because it ‘tells people to violate the stay at home order in MI’. They say they’ll reinstate [Candace Owens] today but only if she deletes the tweet,” he tweeted.
“Apparently Twitter is now the stay at home thought police and opinion policing enforcement team,” he added. “Twitter allows pedophiles to discuss their attraction to little kids but [Candace Owens] having an opinion about stay at home orders is where they draw the line. Crazy.”
Apparently Twitter is now the stay at home thought police and opinion policing enforcement team. Twitter allows pedophiles to discuss their attraction to little kids but @RealCandaceO having an opinion about stay at home orders is where they draw the line. Crazy. 🤬
— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) May 2, 2020
A Twitter spokeswoman told The Hill that Owens’s tweet violated the tech company’s coronavirus misinformation policy, “specifically around heightened-risk health claims.” She claimed Owens’s tweet involved “denial of … government body recommendations to decrease an individual’s likelihood of exposure to COVID-19 with the intent to influence users into acting contrary to recommended guidance.”
Twitter updated its safety policy in March, specifically prohibiting tweets that “could place people at a higher risk of transmitting COVID-19.” The policy bans tweets denying “expert guidance,” encouraging “fake or ineffective treatments, preventions and diagnostic techniques,” or tweets containing “misleading content purporting to be from experts or authorities.”
Content that increases the chance that someone contracts or transmits the virus, including:
– Denial of expert guidance
– Encouragement to use fake or ineffective treatments, preventions, and diagnostic techniques
– Misleading content purporting to be from experts or authorities
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) March 18, 2020
On April 1, Twitter announced that the company is “enforcing this in close coordination with trusted partners, including public health authorities and governments, and continue to use and consult with information from those sources when reviewing content.”
In other words, it is likely Twitter worked with Michigan authorities under Gretchen Whitmer in the matter of Candace Owens’ suspension.
Donald Trump Jr. drew a troubling conclusion.
“Heard from my friend [Candace Owens] that she got banned from [Twitter] for simply telling the people of [Michigan] they should go to work,” he tweeted. “If the Social Media Masters ban you for that w/o an explanation, imagine what they’ll do to try to influence the election given their politics!”
If the Social Media Masters ban you for that w/o an explanation, imagine what they’ll do to try to influence the election given their politics!
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) May 2, 2020
Owens had not been banned, merely suspended, and Twitter did eventually give an explanation. Even so, the move is troubling.
Twitter suspended Candace Owens in the name of public health, but reopening the economy is not just a health issue. States where the coronavirus curve has flattened arguably should reopen, but they will need to do so while maintaining social distancing guidelines. Even so, banning people from going to work is an economic and political decision, and Whitmer arguably overstepped her bounds by issuing a new declaration in the face of the legislature’s opposition. This does not necessarily make her a “dictator,” but it is troubling.
Similarly, Owens arguably went too far in calling for a mass revolution. While the Michigan House did not agree to extend Whitmer’s declaration of emergency, it did pass a measure to sue Whitmer for overstepping her authority. This approach, along with the very vocal protest this week, seems better calculated than a mass return-to-work push.
Even so, it is troubling that Twitter stepped in to censor Owens’ call for action. Twitter users often encourage lawbreaking on social media without any repercussions, and Owens’s tweet did not spread misinformation in the sense of claiming that there was no danger from the coronavirus.
Twitter may be intending merely to protect its users, but coordinating with the government to silence dissent is never a good look.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.
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