Open Letter To Twitter’s Board of Directors:
The following is an open letter to Twitter’s Board of Directors, and will also be sent, in part at least and absent the images, to them through the contact form at their website (https://investor.twitterinc.com/corporate-governance/contact-the-board-/default.aspx), and possibly via snailmail to the referenced address. Others are welcome and encouraged to do similarly, referencing or using my letter in part or in total.
Twitter Board of Directors
C/o: Corporate secretary
1355 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Dear Twitter Directors,
In the light of your CEO’s, Jack Dorsey’s, appearance at the US Senate late last year, the following open letter (at Medium) discusses some of the many criticisms of Twitter that have been leveled by a diverse spectrum of more or less mainstream outlets — Forbes, The Spectator, and Spiked Online in particular. Also discussed is what many regard as Twitter Support’s generally problematic and pervasive biases, related to which are three specific examples of suspensions, mine included, only one of which has been recinded, although Twitter may take some credit for that.
But my objectives in the following are, in part, to justify requests to review those suspensions, to review Support’s policies, and to create something like an ombudsman to oversee their decisions. While I can readily appreciate that monitoring over 500 million tweets a day, not to mention responding to any complaints they might generate, is, at best, a herculean task, it still seems clear that something over and above Support as final arbiter is manifestly required. And while Mr. Dorsey’s bravely spoken claim that “Twitter doesn’t use political ideology to make decisions” [CBS News] may be generally true or true in specific cases, that claim is largely belied by the facts on the ground as I will illustrate. In addition, there are clearly a great many other cases that are falling through the cracks, and where the left hand of Twitter’s Board of Directors apparently, and disconcertingly, doesn’t know what the right hand of Twitter Support is doing.
And for the first of those examples, I again draw your attention to that article in Forbes magazine (Big Tech’s Threat To Freedom Of Expression), particularly as it is presumably one that many of your current or prospective investors will be reading with close attention. And that describes the case of the Canadian feminist and blogger, Meghan Murphy, whose account has apparently been permanently suspended for her having the temerity to challenge the rather “anti-intellectual and anti-scientific” dogma of the transactivists that “trans women are women” (11!!11).
While the definition for “woman” is somewhat arbitrary — to some extent something that we stipulate like which is the “right” side of the road to drive on, it isn’t entirely so. Specifically, there are some very sound reasons — many related to the science of taxonomy (see my Post Millennial article) — for the standard definition, i.e., “adult human female (produces ova)”. Something which I rather doubt Bruce Jenner or any other transwomen (compound word — like “crayfish” which ain’t) will EVER do, at least until medical science finds a way to transplant functioning ovaries into people who were born without them.
So for Twitter to suspend Murphy’s account — as she describes in the article above at Quillette (“a million unique visitors a month”) — for the rather bogus claim by Support that she was engaging in “hateful conduct” just proves Twitter to be pandering to the largely untenable and unscientific dogma — the “political ideology” — of transactivists. No doubt the issue is a thorny one, and there might well be some valid points to be made on virtually all sides, although the science seems rather clearly to be more on the side of “feminists” such as Murphy than on that of transactivists.
More particularly, what might be seen as the somewhat amusing “sectarian” war between, largely, “TERFs” and transactivists seems largely predicated on a studious if not pigheaded refusal, mostly by the latter, to define precisely what is meant by the terms “sex”, “gender”, “woman”, and, in particular, “female” in the first place. Far too many seem rather unclear on the concept that, as I argued in my Post Millennial article relative to the venerable and ancient science of taxonomy, the defining and naming of categories is an essential precursor to the entire scientific enterprise, and that of philosophy and mathematics to boot, on which our whole scientific and rational civilization fundamentally and crucially depends.
But, as a fer instance and relative to that “seminal” definition for “female”, you might also read my Medium post — The Imperative of Categories — which discusses one particularly deluded though not at all uncommon transactivist who gamely, or dishonestly, insists not just that transwomen are women, but that they are also female, all without ever defining precisely what is meant by the term in the first place. And, on some objective evidence, the only way he and others in his tribe can claim membership in that particular category is if we agree that it means having a concave mating surface as is the case with (gawd help us) “gendered connectors”. But, in the context of reproductive abilities, it means ONLY the ability to produce ova which I rather doubt they will ever do.
So I don’t think it redounds much to Twitter’s credit, or is a particularly wise business model to be clearly favouring one side — one particular “political ideology”, and the rather egregiously unscientific one at that — over another. And that seems to be precisely what was and is taking place as described in a recent New York Times article, How Twitter’s Ban on ‘Deadnaming’ Promotes Free Speech. Actually, no, it doesn’t — all it does is prove Twitter’s willingness to impose what are little better than anti-blasphemy laws — something else Twitter also seems to favour (Daily Mail) — on any who would challenge trans orthodoxy, who would “question gender fluidity” (The Spectator). Again giving the lie to Mr. Dorsey’s bravely spoken claim about Twitter being unbiased in their “judgements” and “policies”.
Twitter may wish to give some serious thought to so cavalierly producing biased and ill-thought-out policy, particularly on such decidedly unsettled questions, and to the aphorism about good intentions paving the road to hell. And that is not at all a case of hyperbole as there are apparently a great many largely defenseless children who are being badly served by transactivists, and by those who “enable” them (see: Why the CBC chose not to air the BBC documentary on transgender kids; There’s Growing Evidence For A Link Between Gender Dysphoria And Autism Spectrum Disorders; and Graham Linehan’s tweet).
But I turn now to another case wherein Twitter comes off a little better than with Murphy and with the many other feminists in her “tribe” who are equally critical of transactivist cant and dogma, and who have been similarly banished to the outer darkness (Another feminist voice silenced on Twitter). And that is where Twitter Support had recently suspended one Titania McGrath (“the best Twitter troll ever”) before, in their inscrutable wisdom, letting her out of their dungeon from which she returned in glory and defiance — so to speak.
However, while Twitter is certainly to be commended for seeing the errors of its ways, although it might have been instructive and edifying to know the reasons behind that change, it only highlights or suggests some rather problematic aspects. And, more particularly, Twitter Support policy seems guided more by which is the squeakiest wheel — as in this case (Jezebel) where they finally let someone out of the dungeon who maybe shouldn’t have been as they had tweeted a more or less explicit, though clearly sardonic, threat of violence — than by rational argument (see: The death of Godfrey Elfwick). Again, I get that Twitter has a herculean task to respond to all complaints in an equitable manner. But making Twitter Support into judge, jury, and executioner — particularly without providing any recourse to a “Supreme Court” of sorts, to an ombudsman — is just shooting yourselves in the feet. And not doing the cause of civil discourse — or your bottom line — any good at all.
But, finally, consider my own case and a somewhat related one (Chris Rock outrage exposes Twitter’s worst quality [“A resurfaced clip of the comedians throwing around ‘n****r’ has stunned the internet”]), both of which suggest that Twitter Support is, apart from being humourless and self-indulgent, unclear on the concept that there is difference between actually using a word and referring to it: Refighting the Usage Wars. Twitter Support gives every indication that someone tweeting a passage from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn that included that “N-word” (a profoundly silly and seriously problematic circumlocution and euphemism), or even a section of encyclopaedia article on the word “nigger”, would also be consigned to the outer darkness if not summarily shot.
But more particularly and in the same vein as those cases, my own “transgression” (as @SteersMann) — my supposedly “odious” hate crime, my “hateful conduct”, consisted in, more or less, referring to several epithets — including the actual “N-word” (the horror …) — by way of criticizing someone’s tweet which I thought qualified as some egregious sexism and racism — even if it was directed at white males. Apropos of which, you might also note that many others in the indicated thread thought likewise, particularly the individual I was responding directly to. And, in addtion to that, you might note, in particular, the phrase “bottom of the victim hierarchy” in the JPG they included:
As I pointed out to Support — several times — in my objections to their suspensions of my account, my winkies — which your programming department probably spent a not inconsiderable amount of time and money implementing — were intended — an intention that should have been clear to all but the blind or the narrow-minded — to suggest that I wasn’t at all calling anyone those epithets. It was entirely an analogy to suggest that “fucking white dudes” was, potentially at least, just as odious, just as sexist and as racist as the epithets I referred to are frequently if erroneously seen as.
But relative to which, note also the inclusion in my tweet of a reference, used to underline my argument, to a YouTube video by (the BLACK comedian) Chris Rock which asserts that there was and is an ongoing civil war between blacks and “niggahs”; see this relevant passage from a Science Direct paper on “The semantics of slurs” by linguist Adam Croom which quotes Rock’s video:
There’s like a civil war going on with black people, and there’s two sides: there’s black people, and there’s niggas. The niggas have got to go. Every time black people want to have a good time, ignorant ass niggasfuck it up …. Shit, I was talking about niggas breaking in your house, well if you want to save your money put it in your books. Cause niggas don’t read. Put the money in the books, shit, books are like kryptonite to a nigga
And my point there was, as Croom argues and as Rock suggests, “slurs” are not necessarily racist or sexist even if they may be rather “rude” or disconcerting to those with more “delicate” sensibilities — it depends entirely on context, a concept that Support seems to have some difficulty with, or refuses to even consider as relevant. Or maybe that is a limitation, an in-built bias, of your AI programs.
But my point was also that IF those “slurs” are to be anathematized — generally an unwise idea as Rock’s video and Croom’s paper suggest — then “Kate Clancy’s” “fucking white dudes” SHOULD also be likewise. Although one might reasonably wonder whether she too has had her account suspended for “Violating [Twitter’s] rules against hateful conduct”. That it probably hasn’t been is further evidence giving the lie to Mr. Dorsey’s rather too blithe assertion about the “use [of] political ideology to make decisions”. Rather a common observation or criticism of Twitter that it is essentially condoning “white-bashing and male-bashing” — as suggested in that tweet response by Bhurzum II (above) — while anathematizing any criticisms, even the most oblique ones, of the less “privileged”. And that is, once again, apparently based on the equally bogus “political ideology” that “persons of colour” are simply incapable of being racist — which some (RationalWiki) have reasonably suggested is intrinsically racist in itself: ALL blacks are intrinsically superior to ALL whites because they’re immune to the fatal flaw of racism?
While I will readily concede that Twitter certainly has the legal power and the authority to stipulate which words it considers “taboo” or obscene, and ANY use of which is cause for banning, it seems rather less tenable to argue that it is morally justified in doing so, particularly when it is manifestly obvious that they are being egregiously hypocritical in their application of that “principle”. More particularly, if someone says 2+2=5 — and demands compliance with that egregious claim — then it is simply NOT “hateful conduct” — the proximate if bogus cause for far too many suspensions, mine included — to say, “no, it’s not”. And, analogously, neither is saying “transwomen are NOT women”, nor is quoting The Guardian saying “A new edition of Huckleberry Finn expunges its repeated use of ‘nigger’ for understandable reasons” even if the use of such words as epithets, depending on the context, MIGHT be construed as racist. It’s all fine and dandy to have principles, but when they’re applied “selectively” — as Twitter Support clearly seems to be doing in far too many cases — then that just gives credible justification for, at the very least, the charge of flagrant hypocrisy.
In any case and to close, I would again urge Twitter to seriously and honestly review how Support handles complaints; to consider the evident, pervasive and quite problematic biases they exhibit; and to consider implementing something in the way of an ombudsman. I would also suggest that you consider reinstating the accounts discussed, Meghan Murphy’s in particular, and mine as well.
Twitter is actually not a bad social-media platform, and it is, in some ways and in general, rather better than Facebook in being more immediate and less restrictive with a potentially broader reach. However, if Twitter insists on putting their thumbs on the scales — as they have clearly been doing in far too many cases — and pandering to particular and particularly problematic or flawed “conventional wisdom” and sets of “political ideologies” then one might reasonably suggest that they are more a part of the problem than of the solution.
Jim Wiggins, AKA @SteersMann