Harassed by Twitter
On August 10th, 2017, I woke up to an unusual message. When I tried to send out my usual ritual of tweets, I received a notice that a tweet was flagged as abusive.
This was very blunt of me and surely this can be read as insulting, but I did clearly state it was not a metaphor. In other words, I deliberately and clearly stated a genuine recommendation to seek medical help for symptoms I observed.
I studied clinical psychology for a number of years. It wasn’t long before I realized I wasn’t interested in spending the rest of my life diagnosing and attempting to treat people day in and day out who are only there because of a court order or who weren’t actually interested in getting better. Studies have shown that psychological disorders, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, and social media have a unique relationship. I was suggesting for her own sake and the sake of others she see a mental health professional. Surely, Twitter doesn’t consider this suggestion abusive and certainly no more abusive than any other of the hundreds of thousands of tweets seen day in and day out. I didn’t say any of this. I simply told her to seek help and go away. Surely, Twitter is able to view the conversation and objectively see I was clearly being harassed and that she clearly continued to harass despite repeated attempts to tell her to stop. Right?
My account was locked for a week. It wasn’t locked for a few hours or a few days, but seven days for the above tweet. How could Twitter allow someone who attacked me and who has a history of attacking and falsely reporting people to deny me freedom of speech? How could Twitter decide to harass me further with a locked account?
According to Twitter rules, Twitter believes that “everyone should have the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.” While this is a general statement and clearly Twitter has created restrictions to protect the rights of others to do the same, surely they meant to include the “power to create” this tweet and to “share” this “information instantly, without barriers:”
But on August 8th, 2017, Canadian Free Syria Army activist Alana Bowker began tweeting to people that they shouldn’t trust me. She then began tweeting at me directly regarding the above Tweet.
Clearly, Alana Bowker had an issue with the July 15th tweet of Brad Parscale and garnered some ill will rising from her belief that I “stole” it from her. But it didn’t stop there. She continued. At first, I simply ignored her continued harassment, but she kept going…
… and going…
She ended her tweet storm with what appears to be an underhanded and unprovoked accusation of misogyny.
Despite two separate requests that she stop her harassment, she continued.
But she didn’t just ignore my request to end her harassment. She threatened to report me for harassment.
Two days later, my account is locked. The pop up Twitter sent claimed the tweet mentioned was the reason my account was locked.
“Piss off poser”
“Fuck off, loser”
None of this was considered harassment by Twitter. None of it. Each report came back with the same robot response from Twitter:
Surely, Twitter would appeal the decision in lieu of the fact that I was being harassed and they were actively involved in harassing me by locking my account and refusing to address my grievance, right?
Meanwhile, an account who has a deep history of falsely reporting people is allowed to continue harassing others.
And what about the tweet that Alana Bowker reported for abuse and was accepted by Twitter as abusive? Twitter has deemed that this tweet and the account itself are subject to being removed and/or locked under the “Abusive Behavior” section of Twitter Rules.
So, how does Twitter determine abusive behavior?
Violent Threats (direct or indirect) Clearly, the tweet did not threaten anyone. I have not threatened anyone. There were no “threats of violence” or “threatening or promoting terrorism.”
Harassment “Aggressive pressure or intimidation” is the broadest definition of harassment. By this definition, most of Twitter would be gone for being too aggressive or being perceived as intimidating. Since her tweets were not considered abusive, this is clearly not Twitter’s definition.
According to Wikipedia, Harassment is defined in the legal context as “any repeated or continuing un-consented contact that serves no useful purpose beyond creating alarm, annoyance, or emotional distress.” She tweeted at me. I did not tweet at her. In fact, I had to go back and search to find out if there was any prior contact at all. Her repeated tweets, despite my attempts to have her stop, continued and breached consent. None of my tweets were “un-consented” and my tweets served very specific useful purpose beyond “annoyance.” But hers on the other hand exemplified that perfectly. There was no useful purpose in ignoring my efforts to have her stop, yet she continued specifically to raise alarm, annoy, and create distress.
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.” I did not “promote violence against or directly threaten” her at all, let alone her race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, any disability, nor any disease, let alone did I promote violence against or directly attack or threaten her based on any of them. She never mentioned any disability or disease, so not even the broadest uninformed interpretation or manipulation can in any way be considered threatening or promoting violence.
Multiple account abuse, Private information, Impersonation, Self Harm None of these even remotely address the content of my tweet or my account.
So, this begs the question, why was my account locked?
Twitter won’t tell me. In fact, Twitter wouldn’t even let me DM support and it also limited features beyond what it describes. It allegedly allows you to DM your followers, but it won’t let you DM any images.
Social media has taken over most of the conversation space in the United States. The ability to practice free speech has become more dependent on corporations whose decisions we have no vote on and whose internal laws or “rules” remain secret, subjective, and inconsistent. Corporations are not designed to be the arbiters of human rights. They fail at protecting free speech as much as they do protecting those from abuse and harm. They fail at addressing grievances and upholding justice. Twitter seems to be failing so badly that soon, their algorithms will have to decide if the company is even worth saving.
Until corporations can separate the market from the product, until governments begin to address virtual space as real national and international space within the context of human rights and natural rights, micro-monopolies will continue to erode freedoms and force Americans to reconsider what self-governance, sovereignty, and humanity really mean in the age of the internet.
Until Twitter comes to terms with their complicity in aiding and abetting in the harassment of others when they make decisions and take actions against victims of harassment without any semblance of due process or justice, they cannot and will not remain a medium for the future of speech on the internet.