Twitter has abruptly broken its own policy of not commenting on individual accounts to explain why it temporarily suspended the account of actress Rose McGowan late yesterday, after she had been tweeting about allegations of sexual abuse and harassment which have been surfacing against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Earlier today we asked Twitter why it had suspended McGowan’s account and it declined to provide an explanation, saying it does not comment on individual accounts “for privacy and security reasons”.
Yet now the Twitter Safety account has publicly tweeted to say McGowan’s account was “temporarily locked because one of her Tweets included a private phone number, which violates our Terms of Service” — apparently selectively breaking its own rule about not commenting on individual accounts.
(Update: McGowan has responded to Twitter’s explanation on her newly unfrozen account, pointing out that President Trump’s Twitter account may very well violate Twitter’s rules against inciting violence:
At this point it would appear that Twitter’s sense of irony runs very deep indeed. And/or its store of hypocrisy. Because, as others have previously pointed out, the company has long used a policy of not commenting on individual accounts to shield itself from accountability — e.g. from criticism that it’s providing a platform to nazis and white supremacists.
Yet now, in this instance when it’s facing a high profile storm of criticism for selectively silencing McGowan (a verified Twitter user with more than 750k followers) and for simultaneously failing to silence the abuse flowing over its own platform, it’s suddenly okay breaking its own rule as it tries to extricate itself from blame and criticism that it’s also complicit in enabling the abuse of women.
Safe to say, this really is what leading from behind looks like.
But let’s not forget we’ve already seen Twitter ban one particular notorious troll yet defend the right of another to make violent threats, even as armies of misogynistic and racist trolls continue to roam its platform with near impunity exactly because Twitter has handed the burden of responsibility for blocking and reporting racism, hate speech, misogyny and so on off to individual Twitter users.
Here’s another little irony you’ll find retweeted into the Twitter Safety feed right now:
In its series of three longer-than-140char tweets regarding McGowan’s suspension, Twitter does say it will be “clearer about these policies and decisions in the future”.
But it also goes on to claim to be “proud to empower and support the voices on our platform, especially those that speak truth to power”.
So — in tone of voice at least — Twitter appears, once again, to be hunkering down and digging into its default position of defending all speech, i.e. including abusive, hateful speech.
Which is exactly the kind of inflexible perspective that has led to its ongoing failure to drive abusers off its platform — thereby contributing, inexorably, to the bullying and harassment of women (and others).
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has also tweeted to flag the Twitter Safety apologia, reiterating that: “We need to be a lot more transparent in our actions in order to build trust.”
And while more transparency certainly sounds like a good idea, if it’s just going to be more selective transparency — as Twitter has deployed in this instance — that’s hardly going to engender a new dawn of trust in its actions.
Moreover, if the company’s leadership continues to let its platform be weaponized by co-ordinated groups of abusers to conduct targeted harassment against anyone they choose then it will find large swathes of its user-base continue to view it with mistrust — if they don’t just up sticks and ditch Twitter entirely.
And, well, we all know how that tale ends.