So Twitter has finally given Milo Yiannopoulos the boot — apparently for good — after the Breitbart “journalist” gleefully participated in, and egged on, a vicious campaign of racist abuse directed at Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones on Twitter earlier this week.
This wasn’t the first time that Milo, formerly known as @Nero, used his Twitter platform — at the time of his suspension he had 338,000 followers — to attack and abuse a popular scapegoat (or someone who merely mocked him online). It wasn’t even the worst example of his bullying.
What made the difference this time? Leslie Jones, who has a bit of a Twitter following herself, refused to stay silent in the face of the abuse she was getting, a move that no doubt increased the amount of harassment sent her way, but one that also caught the attention of the media. And so Milo finally got the ban he has so long deserved.
But what about all those others who participated in the abuse? And the rest of those who’ve turned the Twitter platform into one of the Internet’s most effective enablers of bullying and abuse?
In a statement, Twitter said it was reacting to “an uptick in the number of accounts violating [Twitter’s] policies” on abuse. But as the folks who run Twitter know all too well, the campaign against Jones, as utterly vicious as it was, wasn’t some kind of weird aberration.
It’s the sort of thing that happens every single day on Twitter to countless non-famous people — with women, and people of color, and LGBT folks, and Jews, and Muslims (basically anyone who is not a cis, white, straight, non-Jewish, non-Muslim man) being favorite targets.
Twitter also says that it will try to do better when it comes to abuse. “We know many people believe we have not done enough to curb this type of behavior on Twitter,” the company said in its statement.
We agree. We are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to better allow us to identify and take faster action on abuse as it’s happening and prevent repeat offenders. We have been in the process of reviewing our hateful conduct policy to prohibit additional types of abusive behavior and allow more types of reporting, with the goal of reducing the burden on the person being targeted. We’ll provide more details on those changes in the coming weeks.
This is good news. At least if it’s something more than hot air. Twitter desperately needs better policies to deal with abuse. But better policies won’t mean much if they’re not enforced. Twitter already has rules that, if enforced, would go a long way towards dealing with the abuse on the platform. But they’re simply not enforced.
Right now I don’t even bother reporting Tweets like this, because Twitter typically does nothing about them.
@DavidFutrelle I look forward to dumping a wagon-load of manure on your grave when you die of heart disease, you fat, snivelling fuck.
— Bob Lorincz (@Bobcat665) May 25, 2016
And even when someone does get booted off Twitter for abuse, they often return under a new name — and though this is in direct violation of Twitter’s rules, the ban evaders are so seldom punished for this violation that most don’t even bother to pretend to be anyone other than they are.
Longtime readers here will remember the saga of @JudgyBitch1 and her adventures in ban evasion.
Meanwhile, babyfaced white supremacist Matt Forney’s original account (@realMattForney) was banned some time ago; he returned as @basedMattForney. When this ban evading account was also banned, he got around this ban by starting up yet another ban evading account, under the name @oneMattForney, and did his best to round up as many of his old followers as possible.
— Matt Forney (@onemattforney) July 13, 2016
A few days later, Twitter unbanned his @basedMattForney account.
And here’s yet another banned Twitterer boasting about their success in ban evasion from a new account:
Thanks, goys. Back up to 1500 followers in 5 days since old account shoahed. Already put 20+ in touch with other #AltRight for networking
— AltRight (@_AltRight_Anew) July 20, 2016
And then there are all the accounts set up for no other reason than to abuse people. Like this person, who set up a new account just so they could post a single rude Tweet to me:
In case you’re wondering, the one person this Twitter account follows is, yes Donald Trump.
And then there’s this guy, also with an egg avatar, and a whopping three followers, who has spewed forth hundreds of nasty tweets directed mostly at feminists.
Here are several he sent to me, which I’ve lightly censored:
And some he’s sent to others.
So, yeah. Twitter is rotten with accounts like these, set up to do little more than harass. And if they ever get banned, it only takes a few minutes to set up another one.
Milo used his vast number of Twitter followers as a personal army. But you don’t need a lot of followers to do a lot of damage on Twitter. All you really need is an email address and a willingness to do harm.
It’s good that Twitter took down one of the platforms most vicious ringleaders of abuse. But unless Twitter can deal with the small-time goons, with their anime avatars and egg accounts, as well, it will remain one of the Internet’s most effective tools for harassment and abuse.