Twitter Cracks Down On A Few Alt-Righters But Fails To Protect Users

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Twitter is finally taking steps to clean up its platform:

Long criticized for allowing bullies, terrorists and bigots to run rampant to the detriment of its own bottom line, Twitter made a surprising move Tuesday by banning a slew of accounts belonging to white nationalists and leaders of the alt-right movement — which holds that traditional conservatives don’t sufficiently protect the interests of white people….Among recently banned Twitter users are Richard Spencer, head of the alt-right think tank National Policy Institute, and other alt-right leaders, including Paul Town, Pax Dickinson, Ricky Vaughn and John Rivers, according to news reports.

Maybe I’m just getting cranky in my old age,1 but there’s something fishy about this. Twitter critics have been asking for years for better tools to manage the tsunami of abuse that frequently engulfs users, especially women and people of color.2 Here are a few suggestions for abuse management tools that have made the rounds:

  • Ability to block IP addresses
  • Allow people to up/down rate new accounts
  • Provide some kind of human tech support for complaints
  • Ability to block new accounts
  • Ability to block accounts with certain words in bio
  • Ability to block all followers of an account (this helps prevent abuse storms from followers of popular accounts)
  • Ability to suspend retweets
  • Ability to block tweets that contain certain keywords3

This list is by no means comprehensive, but do you notice something? Nobody especially wants Twitter to eject specific individuals: it smacks of censorship; it’s not something Twitter management is good at doing; and it will never come close to solving the abuse problem anyway. There’s no way Twitter will ever be able to ban all the flaming assholes in the world, and very few of us feel comfortable with Twitter deciding on who they are in any case. We just want tools that allow us to manage our abuse problems, which are different for everyone.

So why would Twitter do the one thing that even Twitter critics might be uncomfortable with, instead of all the things Twitter critics have actually asked for? It’s almost as if they’re trying to make Twitter reform controversial. We tried, but nothing satisfies you guys!

But then again, maybe I’m just getting cranky in my old age.

1OK, fine, there’s no maybe about it.

2If you want to learn more about this, BuzzFeed’s “A Honeypot For Assholes” is probably the definitive piece about Twitter’s problems.

3Twitter announced a tool for this a couple of days ago. Time will tell how well it works.

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If you're new to Mother Jones or aren't yet sold on supporting our nonprofit reporting, please take a moment to read Monika Bauerlein's post about our priorities after these chaotic several years, and why this relatively quiet moment is also an urgent one for our democracy and Mother Jones’ bottom line—and if you find it compelling, please join us.

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