UNTIL the evening of Monday August 17, I operated a Twitter account which over four years had garnered around 24,600 followers, among them several ‘blue tick’ personalities, including journalists Allison Pearson, Madeline Grant and Patrick O’Flynn, the actor James Dreyfus, the entrepreneur Luke Johnson, the sports coach Ian Pont, and the former deputy assistant to President Trump, Dr Sebastian Gorka.
The next day, I awoke to discover that my account had been suspended by Twitter. The reason given was ‘Platform manipulation and spam’. What on earth did this mean? As someone who’d never previously been warned, limited or suspended on Twitter, it came as a real shock.
I quickly discovered that mine was one of a number of parody accounts to have been suspended at the same time, including Titania McGrath, The Babylon Bee, Jarvis Dupont, Guy Verhoftwat and Tolerance Police. The first two suspensions were reversed within a few days; the last three are, like mine, still in limbo a month later.
I immediately lodged an appeal with Twitter, asking for evidence of my alleged wrongdoing, to which I received a standard reply asking me to confirm my email address, reassuring me that ‘once we receive your confirmation, we’ll review the information you provided and will respond as soon as possible’.
Despite four more appeals asking what evidence Twitter had against me, I have had nothing except the standard email replies.
So what is going on?
For the last couple of years or so, Twitter has been steadily deleting accounts for various reasons – that they are ‘bot’ accounts, that they ‘promote hate’ (although rarely so if they are Left-wing accounts), that they have been inactive for a time. None of which could apply to me, as someone who writes mostly light-hearted tweets about the follies of the so-called ‘Progressive Left’.
This, I suspect, is where I and the other parody accounts have fallen foul of Twitter, which does not like people who dare to mock its woke, Left-wing agenda, even if the account is, as mine was, always polite and never abusive. The difficulty for Twitter is how to ban us if we haven’t infringed any of its rules. I presume this is where ‘Platform manipulation and spam’ comes in – a piece of jargon which can mean anything or nothing.
On the face of it, Twitter holds all the cards. Its terms and conditions allow it to ban any account, with or without a good reason. So perhaps I should just give up and submit?
No, no, no, as a famous lady once said! Twitter may indeed have the legal right to cancel accounts without any good reason. But having the legal right to do something is not the same as having the moral right. And what Twitter is doing – suspending accounts without providing justification – is morally reprehensible. Imagine if it did such a thing with, say, Owen Jones’s account. The uproar would be deafening. What’s more, it would not come solely from the Left. Many of us on the Right would also say this was unreasonable and unfair behaviour, however much we might disagree with Jones’s views on practically everything. That’s the thing about us Right-wingers, you see. We don’t believe in censoring people with whom we disagree.
But, of course, Twitter would never censor Owen Jones, or indeed any Leftist or, come to that, any Centrist or Right-of-Centre person, at least not if they were well-known. Twitter’s censorship, in other words, is based not merely on its political prejudices, but it also favours the powerful, many of whom, like Owen Jones, have other media platforms, over the powerless. Not terribly ethical, is it? Twitter probably calculates that it can get away with such behaviour, and sadly it may be correct – no politician has come to our defence, nor any mainstream media journalist. But it should beware. Once a company starts to treat one group of customers differently from the rest, it’s on a slippery slope. People notice such things – and, more importantly, so do some politicians.
Twitter claims that ‘defending and respecting the user’s voice is one of our core values at Twitter. This value is a two-part commitment to freedom of expression [my emphasis] and privacy’. What exactly does it mean by ‘freedom of expression’? And how does banning accounts that have never abused or threatened fit in with this proclamation?
In the very next sentence, Twitter says that ‘transparency is also an important part of this commitment’. Where is the ‘transparency’ behind the arbitrary and high-handed move to ban my account, along with others, without any clear explanation?
Twitter claims to be a ‘platform’, but once a company starts deciding which views are permissible and which are not, in effect it becomes a publisher instead. Has Twitter thought through the possible ramifications of that, I wonder? If it becomes synonymous with a Left-wing platform/publisher, it may find the political environment in which it operates becomes a lot more challenging. The business environment could also become more hostile. After all, Twitter is in a monopolistic position – even if some argue that Facebook is a competitor, there are many important differences, which is why there is no word for the Facebook equivalent of a ‘tweet’, and why it’s almost invariably tweets that are quoted on other media, not Facebook comments. Twitter’s only genuine competitors are Gab and Parler, which between them have barely more than 1 per cent of Twitter’s user numbers.
For such a large and powerful company to believe it’s reasonable permanently to suspend for no good reason an account like mine strikes me as not merely immoral and arbitrary but ultimately dangerous for a free society. Surely we can all agree that it is important for all points of view to be heard, and that if certain views are censored for no good reason, freedom itself is under threat?