This month, Twitter announced it has a Trust and Safety Council because, as CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted, “Twitter stands for freedom of expression, speaking truth to power and empowering dialogue. That starts with safety.”
Apparently the social media platform’s powerful CEO hasn’t figured out that when you pat yourself on the back for speaking truth to power — and at the same time, protecting the masses from unsafe speech — you sound like the Politburo. Or a modern university that uses speech codes to muzzle dissenting — that is, conservative — opinions.
Shortly after announcing its new council, Twitter suspended the account of blogger and anti-feminist Robert Stacy McCain. Why? A spokesperson explained in an email that Twitter doesn’t comment on individual accounts “for privacy and security reasons.” I requested the tweets that got McCain blocked. No dice. Techies love to talk about transparency, but not for themselves.
McCain posted a tweet that informed him he had violated “rules around participating in targeted abuse.” Because Twitter won’t provide documentation for that abuse, conservative media have been left to guess why the platform silenced McCain. They’ve noted that feminist Anita Sarkeesian — who has sparred with McCain — is on the Twitter Council. “So it sure seems like that moment Twitter gave Sarkeesian the power to do so, she started blackballing her critics,” Robert Tracinski wrote in The Federalist.
I’ve seen tweets from the now shuttered @rsmccain account. If they crossed Twitter’s lines by actually threatening or harassing someone, I missed it. McCain is best known for his posts on #GamerGate — the hashtag for critics of a feminist crusade against sexism in the video game industry. GamerGate is one of those controversies that draws grievance seekers and social media trolls. Both sides — McCain included — have been known to get overly personal. Last year, Twitter suspended McCain’s account after he outed a feminist critic as a transexual. McCain told me, “I had to delete some tweets and I was back in business.”
Twitter has an absolute right to decide who can use its platform and what constitutes over-the-top speech. Before the Truth &Safety Council, the tech giant also suspended the account of George Zimmerman — yes, the guy who killed Trayvon Martin — for posting topless photos of an ex-girlfriend.
In addition, every user has the ability to mute or block unwelcome voices — and hence can shield themselves from harassers. There’s even a Twitter account that blocks accounts like McCain’s old one and his followers. So I don’t see why Twitter needs a council — unless its real purpose is to limit the speech of others.
I reached out to Sarkeesian: no response. I reached out to a woman who tweeted that McCain harassed her friend: no reply. McCain would talk. He noted that of the 40 organizations on the Twitter Council, many are left-leaning and none is conservative or libertarian. The Twitter Council is an echo chamber. “There are some people who just can’t stand the idea that someone could have access to Twitter or anything, or a platform to be able to criticize them,” McCain told me. They don’t believe in freedom of expression for others. Free speech is not safe. And Jack Dorsey has made them Twitter’s bouncers.
Email Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org.