As reported earlier, in a surprising move by Twitter, overnight one of the Internet's most prominent and venerable commentators, Glenn Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law professor who runs the popular aggregator site Instapundit, had been suspended from Twitter. His offense was to tweet this in response to protests in Charlotte, North Carolina after a police shooting:
Even before Reyonds' response, attention had turned to Twitter's policy on suspending accounts, especially in the aftermath of the ban of Milo Yiannopoulis. The social media lists the most common reasons for suspending accounts here. This seems to be the relevant section in Reynolds' case:
We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up. In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we do not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user's voice.
Any accounts and related accounts engaging in the activities specified below may be temporarily locked and/or subject to permanent suspension....
- Violent threats (direct or indirect): You may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism....
- 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. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.
As Reason's Nick Gillespie pointed out:
Let's be clear: Twitter is a private company and has every legal right to act however it wants when it comes to creating and enforcing rules of conduct (at the same time, publicly stating rules and then failing to live up to them may provide redress for users). So, as with the banning of Milo Yiannopoulis, the alt-right Breitbart editor, we're not talking about classic censorship here in which the government clamps down on speech it finds offensive or subversive.
But that's hardly the end of meaningful discussion, is it? I suspect suspending Reynolds over this was a quick-trigger response by someone (or some-bot) at the service that will quickly be reversed. Certainly, the conversation at Twitter suffers if every tweet that gives offense is punished by a suspension, especially if the suspensions predictably target people from only one part of the ideological spectrum.
Twitter is already facing serious challenges from social-media services such as Snapchat and Instagram, each of which reportedly has more daily users. The last thing it can afford to do—or should do, given its stated commitment to free speech—is to become one more fainting couch in cyberspace where offense it taken easily and often and then acted upon. Twitter's blocking functions work well to help users dismiss and ignore trolls and idiots (however we each choose to define those terms). Better to work on constantly upgrading those sorts of mechanisms than to start suspending people such as Instapundit—the Blogfather, for cripes sake!—for tweets that are not particularly offensive or deplorable.
Chilled speech isn't like chilled vodka; it sends people out the door quicker than you might think.
Whetever the reason, as of about an hour ago, Twitter appears to have relented, and has reinstituted Instapundit's account under one condition, that he delete the offending tweet.
Twitter has unblocked my account on condition of deleting the offending tweet. I've done so, but it's here:: https://t.co/DDkZd2el6Y— Instapundit.com (@instapundit) September 22, 2016
End result: win win for everyone: Reynolds is back to "providing free content" for Twitter, Twitter avoids being accused of censoring conservative voices (at least until the next incident), and meanwhile Reynold's message, whether it was in poor taste or otherwise, has been heard by far more than would have happened without the resulting scandal.