By David Futrelle
I spent some time this afternoon going through one of accused #MAGAbomber Cesar Sayoc’s apparent Twitter accounts, one specifically devoted to trolling and threatening his assorted political enemies, screenshotting and archiving what I could before Twitter took it down. He was a prolific tweeter. I got through two months of it.
If you’ve seen pictures of this his van — plastered not only with photos of his hero Donald Trump but also with photos of some of the very Democrats he allegedly targeted with bombs — you will not be shocked to learn that the Twitter account (which hasn’t been confirmed as his, as far as I know, but which looks plenty authentic to me) he devoted to attacking his political opponents was a smorgasbord of boomer memes, screenshots of articles from right-wing media like Breitbart and Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire and graphics from astroturfy right-wing student group Turning Point USA. He posted memes vilifying financier and liberal donor George Soros — after he allegedly sent Soros a bomb in the mail.
His recent feed was filled with memes and other graphics targeting Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida; indeed, Sayoc posted so obsessively about Gillum that I would be frankly surprised if he didn’t send a bomb to him alongside the targets that we know about so far.
And then there were the death threats. Lots of death threats, some of them quite gruesome. (Click on images to see archived versions of the tweets.)
Here’s his response to a USA Today article about Elizabeth Warren; clearly this threat is aimed at her.
This Tweet (which I wasn’t able to archive before the account went away) was directed at comedian Kathy Griffin, another regular target of right-wing hate mobs. (Characteristically, he spelled her name wrong in two different ways in the tweet itself.)
Alongside his liberal and Democratic targets, Sayoc also threatened people and publications on the right that he felt stood in the way of Trump’s agenda. This ominously worded threat was aimed at America Magazine, published by the Jesuits, after it ran an editorial opposing the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
He also aimed a series of sometimes gruesome death threats at Republican Senator Jeff Flake, reviled on the right for his occasional criticisms of Trump, and his family.
He accompanied these with exceedingly graphic photos of dead bodies and body parts partially eaten by alligators, suggesting that Flake’s dead body could easily be dropped off in the Florida swamps and never found, at least not in once piece. (He made similar insinuations about Holder.) Sayoc also suggested that Flake could be literally fed to a giant python.
I was only able to go through two months worth of Sayoc’s tweets before the account was shut down. The Daily Beast reports that he also directly threatened Soros, comedian and noted Trump-disliker Jim Carrey, and New York Times columnist Sarah Jeong, who was famously smeared by right-wing trolls as an “anti-white” bigot. Who knows how many more threats there were on this account?
But perhaps a more important question is why these threats, some of them nearly two months old, managed to stay up at all — and why an account that sent so many explicit death threats wasn’t itself suspended months ago? Many of these threats were sent directly to the threatened parties, and I find it hard to believe that none of them were reported to Twitter support.
Indeed, at least one person I’ve seen on Twitter — Democratic strategist Rochelle Ritchie — says that she reported the threats Sayoc sent her to Twitter support, and they did nothing.
Twitter, what the hell. You’re a huge company. You have the ability to shut down hate on your platform. You have simply chosen not to — by making excuses for high-profile violators of your hate and harassment rules and by not devoting the necessary resources to make sure that reports of abuse are handled quickly and competently.
There have been (last I checked) 736,914 comments posted on my blog right here — not including those posted on its original incarnation on Blogspot. At one point I had moderators, now it’s just me. Yet somehow I manage to keep hate speech out of the comments. Yeah, there’s a lot more stuff posted on Twitter. But Twitter also has more than one employee.
Facebook has similarly failed to contain Sayoc’s hate. He was evidently the moderator of pages called Killgeorge Soros and Killall Socialist. The first has been taken down (you can see a screenshot here); the second is (at least at the moment) still up. Apparently Sayoc managed to sneak past whatever hate speech filters Facebook has by using the incredibly sophisticated technique of smooshing the word “kill” and the name “George” together.
Facebook has a current market cap of $420.75 billion. I think they could probably afford to spend a little bit of money to upgrade whatever needs to be upgraded to make sure no one can make Facebook pages that are themselves literal death threats.
Sending bombs through the mail is terrorism. But sending death threats is also a kind of terrorism. Twitter and Facebook aren’t common carriers like phone companies or internet service providers. They are social media companies. They restrict what appears on their platforms in all sorts of ways every minute of every day.
It shouldn’t take the arrest of a suspected mail-bomber, a would-be assassin of roughly a dozen top Democrats and media figures, to get Twitter to pull down an account that had been posting gruesome death threats for months. The Killgeorge Soros and Killall Socialist Facebook pages should never have been allowed up in the first place.
Get your acts together, social media companies. Lives are at stake.
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