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As I sat pondering what I’d write about this week, the social media gods dropped a gift into my lap.
Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently banned from twitter after following a digital kerfuffle involving him, his followers, and Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones.
The suspension came just minutes before Yiannopoulos – who goes by the nom de guerre Nero – was to host a Gays for Trump event at the Republican National Convention.
The drama appears to have been sparked by a negative review that Yiannopolous gave Ghostbusters. His followers hurled a slew of tweets at Jones, and Nero tweeted
“If at first you don’t succeed (because your work is terrible), play the victim.”
— Jim Treacher (@jtLOL) July 20, 2016
After being exiled from the digital peanut gallery, Milo commented on the ban.
“With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.”
“Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left. Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?”
“Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.”
“This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.”
Per Twitter’s terms of service users “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.”
First things first. I am not easily triggered, offended, or otherwise butt hurt by words of any kind. I grew up in the 90s before terms self-esteem, and participation trophies entered the American lexicon. That glorious time in the not too distant past when youth sports coaches behaved more like Mike Ditka than Dr. Phil.
However, objectively speaking one could see how some of the tweets sent to Jones by Milo’s followers could be considered offensive, and the majority of them were certainly uncalled for.
But that’s were things start to get tricky.
It’s absurd to ban a person from a platform because of the words used by people who follow their work. Milo is a pithy, blunt, opinionated guy, but nothing that he says could ever really be construed violent or threatening by anyone reading through an objective lens. Insulting? Absolutely, but there’s an old saying about sticks and stones, and as insulting as he may be at times none of those insults seem to meet the criteria for an outright ban.
It appears that more than anything Milo is guilty of ‘thought crime’. If you have followed him in the past, then you know that Milo is a troll of epic proportions. He says outrageous things that he knows will infuriate the social justice crowd, but when you peel back the onion and get to the meat of his argument you’ll find that his positions are often nuanced and reasonable.
For the uninitiated Milo is a gay conservative. As such he has been blasted by the left as a self-loathing homosexual and a racist. These myths are generally dispelled after listening to him speak for a while because I’m not sure he’s ever gone more than 30 seconds without letting his audience know how much he loves big, black…men. One of the reasons he leans to the right is because he feels let down by the way progressives refuse to address the issue of homophobia in Islam. Unfortunately, that sort of nuance is often lost on those who read headlines and pass on content and context.
(As an aside, Milo often appears on Joe Rogan’s podcast. If you aren’t familiar with his style or personality, it’s well worth a listen)
Twitter is of course its own platform and as such has the right to ban whoever they want for whatever reason they want. The first amendment doesn’t apply here, but there is a different kind of free speech in question. Anger over Milo’s ban is not due to some constitutional violation, but has been sparked by a reasonable belief among many that media and social media outlets have an inherent progressive bias that suppresses right of center news and opinions. While possibly well intentioned, these policies are straight up poison for social and political discourse in a world where more and more people get their news and form opinions based on things they see on social media.
Following Milo’s banning for a vague and unspecified offense (no one has really pinpointed a specific violating tweet), the suspicions of his legions were further aroused by scores of tweets from progressives that appear to violate the site’s terms of service but haven’t resulted in a Pete Rose like banishment. From where they’re sitting it looks like Twitter attacks on whites, cops, conservatives and anyone else who doesn’t fall into the regressive left’s protected class are fair game.
These are all ok. Because, free speech and stuff. But, @Nero was a "bully".
— Leah the Boss (@LeahRBoss) July 20, 2016
Pair that with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s tweet to Jones about the barrage, and his show of solidarity with Black Lives Matter’s DeRay Mckesson and the ban could reasonably be viewed as an attempt to silence dissent from the right.
Beyond ruffling the feathers of alt-right internet trolls the ban on Milo could also carry the unintended consequences of driving undecided voters straight into Donald Trump’s open, orange arms. The chefs at Twitter it appears may have flicked a booger into their own bowl of bisque.
So how about this; let’s accept the reality that sometimes people say mean things, things they would never say in person, and let’s also accept that if you exist in the public eye then at some point you will suffer the slings and arrows of the digital world. The good news is Twitter has a built-in solution to this unfortunate reality – two actually. They’re called the ‘mute’ and ‘block’ features.
As is so often the case, the real solution to this problem was in front of team Twitter’s face the entire time.
This contributor is a Marine veteran that has served in the Middle East. Due to the sensitive nature of his current job, he has requested to remain anonymous.