Some Thoughts on Twitter and Censorship

I did not like Ghostbusters. The old one. It’s just not that funny. I haven’t seen the new one yet, but probably will at some point because everybody eventually sees everything. All I really know about the new one is that a lot of people are upset about it for reasons which remain unclear to me, but seem to involve male rage, Gamergate, and making America great again.

One of the stars, Leslie Jones, spent her Monday retweeting the racist and misogynistic shit hurled in her direction for the crime of, as she said, “making a movie.” At the end of the day, signed off“in tears and with a very sad heart.”

Afterwards, many people called for Twitter to “do something” about the barrage of rampant hate speech Jones and so many others experience on the site. A day later, Twitter permanently suspended Breitbart “tech editor” Milos Yiannopoulos for inciting his hundreds of thousands of followers to go after Jones on Twitter, as well as for making his own hateful comments towards her. I have no problem with Twitter kicking off Yiannopoulos because: 1. They are a company who can do whatever they want. 2. He is a raging asshole.


I have complicated feelings about this subject because, to me, the great appeal of Twitter is that it allows me to say whatever I want, however I want to say it. Of course, if I have this privilege, so does everybody else on the site, including trolls and hatemongers and white supremacists and, most offensive of all, bland corporate tweets wishing me a happy Hanukkah or whatever.

So how does Twitter continue to be the great free speech forum I enjoy while also making sure its users feel safe? To be clear, when I say “safe,” I do not mean immune from challenging language. I mean, physically safe. I have seen countless tweets from (almost always anonymous users) threatening to rape, assault, and lynch people. A physical threat needs to be taken seriously. But then there are more oblique threats, like the ones sent to Jewish users showing images of gas chambers and concentration camps. The ones impersonating a user’s dead parents or friends. People feel unsafe when they receive these messages and I, for one, am not going to tell them they’re wrong to feel that way.

What does Twitter do? Where do they draw the line? If they ban somebody for threatening to knock somebody out, what do they do when a user tweets to another that “somebody should kick your ass?” Is that the same level of threat? Is racist imagery a threat? Some would say yes, some no. How does Twitter police every message that goes out? Should they?

I would argue no. The great promise of social media is its unique ability to allow users to connect. Those connections are often wonderful, and often not. Yes, Twitter can (and should) suspend people like Yiannopoulos who repeatedly stir up vicious hatred. Yes, they need to investigate overt physical threats when they’re made aware of them, and suspend users who make them. But censorship is a slippery slope and I would rather Twitter err on the side of leniency than suppression, and I would rather users stopped being total fucking dickheads. 

Taping Tonight

I'm a taping a stand-up special tonight. I say that with some trepidation, as I'm not 100% sure that I'm ready to do that. I've been working on this special for about six months and the truth is, I could use another six months. This is one of the problems I have with myself: rushing headlong into something without giving myself the proper time and space to see it through. Which is not to say the special won't be good; I think it will be. But things can always be better and I wish I had the time to make this thing better, too. That being said, when it comes out on Netflix or whatever, just pretend it's the most brilliant thing you've ever seen. 

On Ambition

Just watched a movie written by and starring a well-known personality not known for his acting. This personality had a large hand in the creation of this film. Let me say this: it is not a good movie. But in it's not-goodness, I found something else I like almost as much as quality: ambition. For a lot of people, it's easy to keep doing what they do, to do what they know themselves to be good at doing. It's an easy way to conduct one's life, and maybe even an admirable one insomuch as mastery of one's craft is a worthy goal. Nobody's going to get on YoYo Ma's dick if he doesn't pick up a clarinet. But I love when people take a chance. I love when people show sides of themselves we may not have known existed before. And maybe those chances don't always pan out. Maybe they never pan out. So what? Ambition isn't the same thing as success. It's the desire to try, and, maybe, it leads to action. It's true that anything worth doing is worth doing well, but doing nothing is not worth doing at all. 

After Much Delay

I have created a new website for myself. Here you will find current tour schedules, musings, photos, and maybe even a laugh or two. Boy, I hope we find some time to laugh together. 

Blogging is pretty annoying, and I don't anticipate doing a ton of it, but every now and again, I may post some shit here when Twitter's character limits stifle my muse. MY MUSE WILL NOT BE STIFLED!!!

I will also probably use this website to promote stuff, including my new book, Navel Gazing, due out in January. Perhaps I will run excerpts to whet your whistle. Perhaps I will not need excerpts to whet your whistle. Perhaps, just perhaps, your whistle is already pretty whet. 

My hope is that we will become great friends, you and I. 

Until then, I remain your...

Michael Ian Black