Stories like this make me fear that we have lost control of the media.
On Wednesday, Jonathan Weisman, deputy Washington editor at the New York Times, expressed on Twitter his distaste for Twitter:
Those tweets have a hate-filled backstory. As the Erik Wemple Blog noted in a previous post, Weisman drew a long stream of anti-Semitic tweets after he tweeted an anti-Donald Trump op-ed from The Post by Robert Kagan under the headline “This is how fascism comes to America.” The messages were filled with epithets and the very worst wishes that human beings can pass along.
Weisman responded by retweeting the nastiness, a move that raised awareness on Twitter about the abuse.
There was more to Weisman’s response: He worked with the New York Times social-media desk to round up offensive material that was sent at him. As Weisman tells it, they then passed along the material to Twitter — essentially filing a complaint under the company’s rules against “abusive behavior.” Those rules include this provision:
Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.
Twitter responded to the complaint with what appeared to be a boilerplate dismissal: “We reviewed the account and content reported and are unable to take action given that we could not determine a clear violation of the Twitter Rules surrounding abusive behavior. We’re happy to revisit our decision if circumstances change or if you can provide additional context. If you have additional information to share that would improve our understanding of the situation, please send it our way,” Twitter wrote in a response to New York Times growth strategy editor Ari Isaacman Bevacqua. (Weisman said he’d flagged some of the offending material on his own but didn’t get a response from Twitter).
Then! Weisman on Wednesday morning used a particular social-media platform to go public with his complaints.
Twitter seems to have taken note. According to Weisman, he has received notice that about nine Twitter accounts have been suspended pursuant to his whistleblowing. “Suddenly I get all these reports back saying this account has been suspended,” says Weisman, counting them up on the phone. Some of the accounts he’d reported were not suspended, he said. “So I don’t really know what their decisionmaking is,” he says. “I don’t know what is considered above the line and what isn’t.”
A move to Facebook, says Weisman, brings more accountability to social-media discussions. “On Facebook, you’re supposed to use your real name, you’re supposed to have a verifiable email,” he says. Though compliance with such rules may be spotty, “in general you can’t be egregious, you can’t have an account that says, ‘I hate everybody.’ ”
The deputy Washington editor has stopped short of deleting his Twitter account. “I think it’s good for everybody to get off Twitter — actually read some articles for a while,” he says.
The Erik Wemple Blog has asked Twitter about its actions in this case and is awaiting a reply. In a recent piece on “Twitter’s anti-Semitism problem,” Paul Smalera wrote on Quartz: “Twitter, perhaps desperate for growth, has left its signup process wide open to abuse. There essentially is no gatekeeper, which is why it is laden with trolls. Racism, sexism, misogyny, hate and anger of all stripes finds a home on its timeline.” To illustrate the problem, Smalera signed up for a Twitter account under the name Awful Human:
Update: A Twitter spokesperson has passed along the following statement. “This type of conduct has no place on Twitter and we will continue to tackle this issue head-on, alongside our partners in industry and civil society. We remain committed to letting the Tweets flow. However, there is a clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate. In tandem with actioning content that breaches Twitter’s Rules, we also leverage the platform’s incredible capabilities to empower positive voices, to challenge prejudice and to tackle the deeper root causes of intolerance.”