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.