The email from Twitter this afternoon shocked me. The subject line said, “Your Twitter account has been locked.”
The email said I had violated Twitter’s “rules against glorifying violence.” What? Me? That’s not possible. But the email helpfully included the tweet in which I had allegedly glorified violence. What terrible thing had I said? It was a reply to a friend’s tweet about the Kyle Rittenhouse trial.
“Agreed on both counts,” I replied to this friend. “Rittenhouse was no hero, but what he did wasn’t murder and he’s not the monster some want to make him. I would’ve been happier if all the people involved that night had had the good sense to stay home and out of harm’s way.”
And that — in the eyes of Twitter’s platform monitors — is enough to conclude that I’m “glorifying violence.”
I angrily shot an appeal back to Twitter, hopeful that someone will be smart enough to reverse the suspension. But the incident is another reminder that we are slowly handing over control of public discourse to social media platforms — and we’re left to pray that these reckless people will stop being so reckless.
Let me say quickly that Twitter has an absolute right to ban me if it wants to. The company has the right to stop any speech on its platform — for any reason it chooses. Or for no reason at all.
Twitter and Facebook and all the rest are within their rights to create any rules they want. They could dictate that every user swear allegiance to Joe Biden and his agenda of widespread theft if they wanted. Other companies could demand evidence you voted for Donald Trump and a promise to support his lies.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, I don’t have any “First Amendment right” to say whatever I want on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. If you believe that, you don’t understand the First Amendment.
No politician or government has any right to censor my speech, but no private company has any obligation to provide a platform for my speech, either. Companies don’t even have any legal obligation to be “fair,” whatever you might think that means.
The First Amendment applies to governments within the U.S. It’s a prohibition against governments putting limits on what I say or publish. Courts have actually limited that freedom in some ways that are flat-out wrong, but that’s not the point here.
When you and I move our public discourse onto private platforms, we are losing our ability to control the rules that apply to us. We’re putting ourselves in a position of allowing private companies to create whatever rules they want to control the flow of public discourse.
I have many reasons to believe that social media has been an absolute disaster for society, but this is one of the most obvious. When we control our own public-facing spaces, we can say what we want. For instance, I can publish anything on this website that I want to say — and there’s nobody who can prevent me from doing it.
When you shift your public participation to Facebook or Twitter — or any other private platform — you are at the mercy of the biases of the people who own and operate the companies. And this is a serious danger to the free flow of ideas and debate.
Hours, after I filed my appeal, I just got an email from Twitter reversing my suspension.
“Our support team has reviewed your account and it appears we made an error,” the unsigned message said. “We’ve determined there was no violation and have restored your account to full functionality.”
There was no explanation about what happened. I don’t know whether someone who disagrees with me reported my tweet out of spite and some low-level flunky rubber-stamped a ban. I’ll never know.
But I do know that when I say anything further on Twitter, I’ll have in the back of my mind the concern that someone might not like what I’m saying. And whether I want it to or not, that concern is going to cause me to question everything I say.
“Are they going to misinterpret this? Am I violating some rule of theirs?”
I suspect that some people at the company want it that way.
Even though my suspension is over now, we owe it to ourselves to think long and hard about how to fix this problem. We don’t need to put ourselves in a position to have the whims and biases of a company’s monitors block us from public discourse.
Note: Seven days after Twitter allegedly restored the functionality of my account, I’m still locked out — and the company’s “support” people ignore every message I send.