With Twitter caught in a death spiral for the past month, you’d figure that at some point, they’d stop digging and try to climb out of the hole. Instead, they’ve brought in a power drill to tunnel their way to the Earth’s core. Earlier this week, Twitter announced the creation of the Trust & Safety Council, an organization dedicated to fighting “abuse” on the platform. The Council’s mission statement reads like a press release from Oceania’s Ministry of Truth:
To ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely on Twitter, we must provide more tools and policies. With hundreds of millions of Tweets sent per day, the volume of content on Twitter is massive, which makes it extraordinarily complex to strike the right balance between fighting abuse and speaking truth to power. It requires a multi-layered approach where each of our 320 million users has a part to play, as do the community of experts working for safety and free expression.
Chief among the inaugural members of the council is Anita Sarkeesian, best-known for her Feminist Frequency series of videos on “sexist” tropes in video games. Appointing Sarkeesian to head a council on policing speech is like hiring Bernie Madoff as your accountant. Sarkeesian’s modus operandi for the past few years has been to shut down individuals who are critical of her in any way, shape or form, as Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson explains in this video:
Anita Sarkeesian has used supposed death threats made against her—some of which she may have faked herself—as justification for clamping down on free speech. Last year, she even made a speech to the United Nations in which she characterized being called a “liar” as a form of harassment. The announcement helped fuel the hashtag #RIPTwitter, in which users point out the various ways that Twitter is abusing its own userbase.
This latest move is emblematic of Twitter’s fall from grace. For all its faults, the platform used to serve as an effective means of spreading information and stories that were ignored or suppressed by the mainstream media. Twitter users were pivotal in not only GamerGate, but in the popularization of the “cuckservative” epithet and breaking news about the Muslim refugee rape attacks in Germany this past New Years’ Eve. However, rather than embrace its users, Twitter insists on fighting them, damning itself in the process.
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Twitter had been in trouble long before the Trust & Safety Council slimed its way into existence. The site’s user growth has been stagnant for nearly a year, a major problem for a platform that is dependent on recruiting new customers to make money. Twitter has also failed to turn a profit in the nearly ten years that it’s been in operation, despite its popularity. However, the site didn’t actively start driving away its users until recently.
Last month, Twitter stripped Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos of his “Verified” tag, a status that allows celebrities to use Twitter without fear of impersonation, which is unprecedented in the history of the site. Twitter’s rationale for punishing Yiannopoulos was his supposed “abusive behavior,” which was a fig leaf to cover for the fact that the site takes a dim view of conservatives and libertarians. For example, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is a vocal supporter of #BlackLivesMatter.
Yiannopoulos’ treatment sparked a full-scale revolt among Twitter’s userbase. Within hours, his fans rallied to the #JeSuisMilo hashtag, which became one of the top ten most popular hashtags worldwide, and free speech advocates worldwide condemned Twitter’s decision. Twitter’s stock has been in freefall ever since #JeSuisMilo began, the platform has actually begun losing users, and recently, four senior executives have fled the company after seeing the writing on the wall.
Furthermore, Twitter is dead-set on infuriating its remaining users with arbitrary speech policies and obnoxious redesigns. The platform suffered another blow when Dorsey announced that Twitter would take control of users’ timelines and determine what they can and cannot see. Furthermore, Twitter has begun censoring alternative right-created hashtags such as #rapefugees (which was about sharing news on the Muslim refugee rape attacks in Germany) in order to suppress news that conflicts with Dorsey’s left-wing ideology.
Bringing on Anita Sarkeesian as the head of the Trust & Safety Council is yet another move guaranteed to drive away Twitter users. Twitter’s principal growth in the past two years has come from GamerGate supporters (who rallied to the site after GamerGate discussion was banned from 4chan) and alternative right users who have used it to advocate for free speech and share news ignored by the mainstream media. With Sarkeesian policing speech on Twitter now, the site has all but told its users that they are no longer welcome.
Twitter’s Dilemma And Corporate Censorship
To a certain extent, Twitter is stuck between a rock and a hard place. As I mentioned above, the site’s growth has been driven by pro-GamerGate “cultural libertarians” and the alternative right, which has inflamed leftists and social justice warriors. If the site allows the former to run unchecked, the latter will declare open war on it, yet by appeasing the latter, the former are being driven away, killing Twitter’s profitability in the process.
Ultimately, Twitter’s slow motion collapse is a good thing in that it shows the limits of corporate censorship. Prior to his suicide three years ago, hacker and free speech activist Aaron Swartz warned that the power of social media companies created new and worrying avenues for censorship. Because private companies have no voters to answer to and no First Amendment to govern them, they have no checks on their ability to control free speech.
In revolting against Twitter’s mercurial harassment policies, social media users have shown that they are unwilling to put up with restrictions on their freedom of expression. Whether Twitter changes course or it falls and is replaced by a more user-friendly platform remains to be seen.