Case #68407303: A Tale of Twitter’s Broken Harassment Standards

Emily G
Emily G
Oct 17, 2017 · 4 min read

On October 3, 2017, the New Byzantium twitter account (@RealByzantium) publicly tweeted my name and address along with a photograph of my house. This account is evidently linked to Jason Kessler, the primary organizer of the fateful “Unite the Right” rally on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, my city of residence, that left three people dead and dozens injured.

As a local leftist activist, Mr. Kessler has targeted me with harassment since Unite the Right was first announced publicly in early June. As an outspoken transgender woman, I am accustomed to this kind of abuse. It is not the first time someone has threatened me by posting my address on Twitter. And my general response is to report the tweet for containing personal information and move on with my day. As a verified user, blue checkmark and all, this tends to work. And so when I submitted Case #68407303, I expected that this tweet would be found to violate Twitter’s standards and be removed. That is not what happened.

Instead, Twitter support told me that because the information could be found on Google, the tweet did not violate any policies. I found this shocking, as this tweet violated Virginia Code 18.2–186.4: Use of a person’s identity with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass. It is noteworthy that, by virtue of my name change, my name is not linked to my address on any official municipal page indexed by Google (later I learned that my name has been changed in the municipal GIS lookup, which is not indexed and I have no memory of requesting be to be changed.)

The response from Twitter regarding my abuse report claiming no violation occurred.

Five days after having my identity published by an account apparently controlled by the most reviled man in Charlottesville, police officers were dispatched to my address with a “Priority One” call — a call involving a weapon, where an imminent threat to someone’s life was suspected. In other words, shortly after being doxxed, I was swatted.

Swatting is no joke. Earlier in 2017, a man was shot by police when a fake police report was called in. And generally speaking, SWAT teams and armed police forcibly entering private residences tends to lead to someone ending up dead. This is far from a game.

As a gun owner and a complainant in the high-profile case against Christopher Cantwell, I have developed a tendency to answer the door with a firearm in close proximity. Since the fatal August 12 rally, I have had two incidents where an unknown person was banging aggressively on my door, causing me to check my house for threats with my gun loaded and in my hand. This call very well may have led to police shooting me dead.

Instead, I was out of state and my wife was out shopping. The police officer called me, I explained the situation, and he filed a report listing me as a victim. Last night, I decided to file a complaint against Mr. Kessler, having found sufficient evidence to link him to the account and to establish the necessary element of intent. While I do not suspect Mr. Kessler was directly responsible for calling in the unfounded police report, the timing of the event with respect to the doxxing tweet certainly suggests that a harm had occurred in its wake. (Mr. Kessler’s associates later sent me screenshots indicating that Mr. Kessler has editorial control of the account but may not have written the specific tweet itself.)

And while I have sought legal remedy through the justice system, the question remains of how Twitter could let this tweet stay up in the first place. While Twitter has updated its Community Standards, these updates appear to contain no change to language regarding personal information. The tweet behind Case #68407303 may have led to me being shot dead by police. It led to someone’s arrest. It may lead to a precedent-setting case surrounding internet harassment. But it did not, apparently, violate Twitter’s rules.

Twitter’s approach of trying to classify problems into broad categories badly misses the point. While it is promising to think that Twitter will ban violent groups and Nazis, the purpose of having community standards is to protect users. And that means that its community stewards need to understand abuse at its core, because it will always be easy to find ways to level abuse at someone that misses the broad categorizations.

It is a rare situation that I live in a state with an anti-internet harassment statute and could provide sufficient evidence to establish probable cause that Mr. Kessler was responsible for the tweet. And — owing to the never-ending fallout of Unite the Right — I am very familiar with the criminal complaint process and did not have to convince police to proceed with criminal charges on my behalf. But until Twitter learns what abuse actually looks like, and understands truly the physical threats it manifests, we will see many more Cases #68407303.

Update: It appears as though the New Byzantium twitter account has been deleted.

Emily G

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Emily G

Charlottesville. Against all fascism.