Milo Yiannopoulos Has Been Permanently Banned From Twitter
It seems after a succession of suspensions, conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos has been permanently banned from Twitter.
I’m probably a million miles away from Milo Yiannopoulos’s politics and rhetoric. He’s not actually someone whose output I follow or go out of my way to keep an eye on. His chosen role of provocateur has amused me on occasion but has also had me scratching my head on others. However, that’s irrelevant given free speech is also there for the opinions of people you don’t agree with. In fact, it can never truly be ‘free’ otherwise.
In the wake of the release of the Ghostbusters reboot this week, its star Leslie Jones has been making the headlines for some disappointing reasons. According to reports, she has received a large amount of online abuse since the movie hit cinema screens – some of which was racist. This has unfortunately led to her calling time on her Twitter experience.
I’ll always be against abuse and harassment on social media (or anywhere) and I think the people responsible for it should be held accountable.
However, too often I find the line between robust criticism and outright abuse is intentionally blurred by ‘professional victims’ who wish to detract from the issues at hand. In this case, Leslie did receive the horrible abuse she claimed to have received of course, but I also think there has been some unhelpful line blurring taking place too where Milo’s involvement is concerned.
Now, unless I’ve missed something, or the reporting on this has been incredibly selective (see UPDATE below), Milo appears to be guilty only of criticising Leslie Jones. Below is the exchange that appears to have got him pinched by the Twitter police:
Also, as far as I can see, Milo never directly calls for any action, negative or otherwise on the behalf of his followers. We can probably cut Leslie some slack for her response to Milo given the state of mind created by the barrage of horrible abuse she did actually receive, but the actions of Twitter appear to be excessive.
I don’t buy the argument that by drawing attention to a tweet you are encouraging harassment. People need to understand that Twitter is a global, publicly accessible forum with a seemingly limitless reach. Twitter’s entire raison d’être is to encourage engagement with your words and to amplify them. It would make no sense to include ‘retweet’ and ‘quote tweet’ functions otherwise. In fact, what is Twitter without these things?
Every time you decide to put something out on Twitter you are openly inviting the response of the entire online world. Think of it as scrawling your thoughts on a sandwich board and taking a stroll around a busy park. Luckily, Twitter affords you the privilege to mute, block, report, respond or to log out.
Even if Leslie Jones is 100% right about everything she has ever said ever, people must still be allowed to disagree with her or have differing opinions without being ‘reported’.
I’ve had my own unfortunate history with unjust Twitter suspensions which you can read about in The Independent. I can’t help but think suspension and banning is a mostly automated process which kicks into action based on the amount of times other users report you. If that’s the case, it’s an incredibly subjective and inadequate system
This is not a defence of Milo and all his controversial views, but a defence of free, open discussion.
We appear to be creating an online environment where far-lefty sentiment must be the status quo, lest you be pilled on as a pariah. To be anti-immigration, critical of Islam or questioning of the Black Lives Matter movement is to invite a smear carnival to your door. Terms such as ‘right-wing’, ‘conservative’, ‘white male’ or ‘neocon’ have become almost universally accepted as pejoratives, serving purely as thought terminating clichés. This is damaging to our political discourse and I say all this as a staunch lefty, vegetarian liberal.
Twitter can do what they want with their platform I suppose. It isn’t a public arena in the true sense, it’s a private company. However, given that Twitter has repeatedly reiterated its commitment to protecting freedom of expression it would appear that they are now failing to uphold this core principle of open discourse.
It is entirely irrelevant whether you ‘like’ or ‘agree’ with Milo. Instead, you should consider that if you claim the right to hold unpopular opinions yourself, it’s essential that you extend that right to everyone else. Otherwise one day, they’ll probably come for you too.
UPDATE 20 July 2016
Since releasing this blog a number of Twitter users have brought some extra information to my attention that wasn’t included in the mainstream media reporting (and still isn’t at the time of writing this). Apparently, Milo was guilty of fabricating, or at least distributing the below screenshots in Leslie Jones’s name:
Now, I appreciate I’m entering dodgy territory by using screenshots that I can’t directly authenticate to make a point about using doctored screenshots, but I’ve had enough independent corroboration for me to conclude that Milo did indeed amplify these fake tweets in Leslie Jones’s name. You can also see them archived here. And below, we have Milo seemingly implying he is behind them.
Given the entirely over the top content of the tweets, it’s my own view that these were intended as a poor attempt at parody, rather than a genuine effort to defame. However it’s still an entirely irresponsible and churlish thing to do. If Milo is ‘your guy’, you have to question the objectivity and integrity of a person who thinks that this is a good idea. I think he should apologise for it.
Whether or not this is what led to the ban is unclear, as Twitter did not explicitly reference it in their reasoning. I’m also not sure whether their terms and conditions cover misrepresentation. If it did, we would have no regressive leftists operating on Twitter.
Is this poor behaviour though? I think so. Would I have someone banned for it though? Probably not. I don’t think the answer to bad use of free speech should be less speech or more restrictions.
Maybe it’s the staunch liberal and free speech advocate in me, but I can’t ever seem to get on board with banning people for words.
Second UPDATE 20 July 2016:
Breitbart have published some authentic tweets from Jones which they claim to be racist. It’s worth pointing out that Yiannopoulos is the editor at Breitbart, but you should make up your own mind about the tweets.