Limiting Harassment, Not Speech

Madeleine Sweet:

While [Milo] Yiannopoulos uses the term “free speech” to declare what Twitter, in his opinion, deprived him of — he clearly could not have meant it in the legal sense, though he likely meant to evoke the same sense that many horrible Americans have; this sense that they can spew whatever bigotry they want without repercussion because “the first amendment”. Perhaps he did mean it in the legal sense, in which case he is as dumb as all of his bigoted drones trolling the #FreeMilo hashtag (also: free him from what?) and attempting to make some correlation between the bill of rights and [Twitter] banning a bigot and a hate-monger from their forum.

Much like when Brendan Eich was removed as Mozilla’s CEO after his contributions to Prop 8 became known, and when Charles Johnson was banned from Twitter for raising funds to “take out” DeRay Mckesson, it was entirely within the realm of reason for Yiannopoulos to be banned as well. By goading his followers into targeted harassment repeatedly and expressing no contrition for it, he became an unwelcome and toxic presence.

Yiannopoulos’ defence is that Twitter is a “safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists”. Racism and xenophobia aside, it should be noted that, last summer, Twitter began a crackdown on accounts that tweeted in support of ISIS. The result? A 40% decline in related activity.

In a weird way, Yiannopoulos is right: Twitter has a much bigger problem with abuse than any single user can represent. But he’s part of the problem. Twitter should not be a safe space for inciting hatred and targeted violence.

Update: Leigh Alexander, writing for the Guardian:

Banning one man won’t undo the small but poisonous cultural legacy he’s created, nor erase the playbook for defamation and harassment online that he’s played a key role in scripting. Twitter has far, far more work to do.

Without this further work, Yiannopoulos’s ban – and even the subsequent catty gloating from us folks on the left – all just stands to aggravate a wound that’s been attracting flies to social media discourse for too long already. An isolated ban just lets Yiannopoulos make himself a martyr for “free speech” – it enables him to argue that social media offers special treatment to those on the political left that it does not accord the right, and perpetuates the pernicious myth that the main interest of the progressive left is in shutting its ears to offensive things or in “censoring” those who ruffle feathers.