Most of you reading this will be aware that Zerohedge’s prolific and highly popular twitter account with over 670,000 followers was on the receiving end of a lifetime ban by the Twitter politburo. This post won’t focus on the details of this specific ban, but if you want to read more about it, see the following: Zerohedge Suspended On Twitter.
It’s imperative not to overly focus on the individual victims of tech giant bans, and instead zero in on the bigger picture. Rather than debating whether or not you like Zerohedge, or whether you think it crossed a line, I want to highlight the dangerous implications of dominant social media companies wielding permanent bans as a weapon against freedom of speech in practice.
This post will cover three main issues.
First, the fact that Twitter and other social media companies have essentially created a caste system when it comes to engagement on their platforms.
Second, the question of whether or not a lifetime ban from social media platforms is an ethical concept.
Third, the dangers of Twitter essentially throwing the entire timeline of a banished account into the memory hole.
For all intents and purposes, @Twitter has created a caste system on its platform. This goes against the entire spirit of why almost all of us joined social media. It’s a massive, dangerous problem and it must be addressed.— Michael Krieger (@LibertyBlitz) February 3, 2020
I’ll be touching on this and much more in a post later.
As the internet and social media started gaining traction, the idea of the “citizen journalist” grew increasingly popular and the public discovered how all sorts of previously unknown people can bring a great deal of hidden information and interesting perspectives to the table. This led to competing narratives on all sorts of topics, and we all basically agreed it’s best to treat people like adults and let them sort things out for themselves. That is, until Hillary Clinton lost an election.
At that point, a certain segment of the population went completely mental and started demanding social media companies fight and censor “fake news.” This anti-liberal perspective, largely promoted by self-proclaimed liberals, deeply affected how social media executives think about and treat platform content in the subsequent years. The result has been that Twitter and other tech giants have effectively created a caste system on their platforms. Though they won’t explicitly admit it, the executives at these companies now seem to believe certain people and organizations should be given priority to shape the national narrative, while others should be diminished. While they tolerate the latter group until they become too influential and disruptive, the former class exists at a level entirely above Twitter’s terms of service. Certain people and organizations are permitted to do whatever they like on the platform, while others are subject to increasingly arbitrary and subjective bans. It’s rapidly becoming an intentionally rigged system designed to reallocate narrative control in a certain direction.
Ask yourself, do you think there’s anything CNN could do to get banned from Twitter for life? I don’t. I genuinely think the news organization CNN can do absolutely anything it wants on or off Twitter and never be considered for a lifetime ban. Why? It’s a protected organization. CNN is above the Twitter law, and as such exists at the very top of the social media caste system. It’s not just CNN of course, there are many individuals and organizations simply not subject to Twitter’s terms of service in the way you or I are. A politician calling for mass government violence abroad (war) is another example. This sort of thing happens regularly without any consequences. Why? Twitter has determined advocating for preemptive government violence is considered reasonable. They’ve determined advocating for one form of violence (war) is fine, but advocating for other kinds of violence is not. Nobody asked for any of this, but here we are.
The next thing I want to discuss is the entire concept of a lifetime ban from a dominant social media company like Twitter. The more I think about it, the more ethically indefensible this practice appears to be. Just as we shouldn’t jail a person for life except under the most extreme circumstances, we shouldn’t be comfortable flippantly banning people forever on large social media platforms. Such action assumes people can’t and don’t change, but Twitter doesn’t seem to be looking at the enforcement of its terms of service from a fundamentally fair or ethical point of view. Executives are increasingly utilizing this most extreme form of punishment, the lifetime ban, at the drop of a hat for minor or misunderstood violations. There are many other ways Twitter could deal with what it deems to be serious violations. You can have three month, six month or even year long bans, but a lifetime banishment is an extreme and indefensible position in almost all cases I’ve observed in recent months.
As such, it’s become clear to me Twitter isn’t using this tool in order to enforce its terms of service, but rather its terms of service exist to provide an excuse to eliminate anyone or any account executives or professional bloggers in Brooklyn deem unpalatable.
I wonder if there’s a direct line from Buzzfeed blue checks to @jack to report thought crime.— Michael Krieger (@LibertyBlitz) February 2, 2020
1-800 protect me from opinions that conflict with yuppie Brooklyn
I know, I know “muh private company,” but let’s discuss reality. If I were to be personally banned from Twitter, my voice in the public sphere would be materially diminished.
This is when you’re supposed to instruct me to start my own Twitter or join an alternative, but the truth is Twitter dominates the very socially and politically important micro-blogging space in the U.S. It’s the preferred communications platform of President Trump for crying out loud. You end my existence there and you extinguish my voice in a very material way for the foreseeable future, yet Twitter can do this at any moment for whatever reason. If a social media company decides they want you gone, they can always come up with an excuse eventually. Is this a major problem? I think so.
If I were Trump I’d make social media bans central to my entire 2020 run.— Michael Krieger (@LibertyBlitz) February 3, 2020
But he isn’t doing that because he’s too focused on pumping the stock market and not finding Ghislaine Maxwell.
Finally, I want to end with another disturbing aspect of the lifetime Twitter ban. Even if you accept it as a justifiable concept, and I generally speaking do not, the way they handle it is particularly problematic. When an account like Zerohegde is banned, you lose the ability to easily search historical tweets, which is in this case means hundreds of thousands of comments made over a decade. If you go to the defunct @zerohedge handle this is what you’ll see:
This page is completely dead. You can’t go back and look at old tweets, 99% of which didn’t violate any terms of service and collectively make up an important part of post-financial crisis history. It becomes far more challenging for any of us, or future historians who want to research this period, to write about Zerohedge and the role it played over the past decade with this information now much harder to find. This is fundamentally unethical and feels like the modern equivalent of burning books. If the company’s going to ban accounts for life, it should at the very least leave the historical record up and easily searchable.
But Twitter doesn’t care. It doesn’t care because the lifetime ban functions as an intentionally arbitrary, cruel and vindictive tool of coercion. It’s intended to scare people and ultimately create a rigged playing field where different individuals and organizations play by distinct rules on the platform. That way the overall public narrative can be manipulated in a certain direction that tends to overlap with the dominant consensus opinions of San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C.
The beatings will continue until thought crimes are extinguished.
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