Kick and Ban

Yesterday, a Twitter employee made the account of Donald Trump disappear for 11 minutes. Twitter’s reaction showed the world how fucked up the company still remains. The incident and their response was a welcome moment of respite in a very long and strenuous nightmare.

Of course, if Twitter’s community rules were anything more than cosmetic, he would’ve been kicked and banned long ago. Threatening nuclear annihilation on an entire nation, for example, is definitely against the rules. We’ve known for a long time that rules don’t apply evenly on Twitter. Bots, literal nazis, white supremacists and harassers benefit from their lax application everyday.

Another funny way they trampled their own policies was when they acknowledged it, as Sarah Jeong remarked.

No doubt, they are flattered that the President of the US uses the platform so actively to keep in touch with his supporters, threaten his enemies in clear violation of their terms of service and pass the time during his bouts of insomnia.

The incident also points to something very peculiar and concerning. Twitter, like all the centralized hegemonic platforms of the day, can’t decide what it wants to be.

The fact that social media platforms are amorphous and yet incredibly impactful allows their managers to take themselves seriously in the worst possible ways. Twitter exec’s free speech and growth above-all approach doomed the platform to become a toxic wasteway. They should’ve listened when Ariel Waldman brought attention to the escalating harassment on Twitter in 2008. But they weren’t interested in sound community and product management and design — apparently. These things seem trivial when you’re busy re-engineering a new free-speech utopia and raking-in cash in the process.

They completely lost their minds during the Arab spring. People using their products on Tahrir Square in 2011 and the credit that the media gave them inflated their egos. It cemented their belief that giving everyone a voice unfettered by social conventions or fear of consequences was a politically powerful thing and, in their Silicon Valley arrogance, they didn’t pause to think; they soldiered on. Charlie Warzel’s infamous Buzzfeed piece about Twitter’s abuse problem shows this beautifully.

How nothing of what happened in between 2011 and last year’s US election didn’t make them change course is beyond me. It is now clear that, at least, some measure of Russian meddling was involved in the election through social media. Silicon Valley companies, under scrutiny from US Congress and the threat of losing the public’s trust forever, are forced into introspective journeys. Whether it’s for show or earnestly is still unclear. Articles that come out these days are concerning. It appears Twitter, for example, was so obsessed with growth that it slowed down the spam team on purpose and allowed Russian and Ukrainian bots to remain on the platform. Ah!

Our 11 minutes of freedom from Donald Trump’s Twitter and how the company chose to respond shows Twitter hasn’t learned a thing. Is the world going to crumble if the President can’t tweet about nuclear war and/or TV ratings in the Palace at 4am?

It won’t. He and his ilk should be banned. The ideas of free-speech without consequences and growth at all cost should be uprooted from the Valley. Plain and simple. Bots, nazis, white supremacists and harassers should be kicked and banned with full force — IP addresses, device fingerprinting, the technical abilities exist if engineers get on the case.

In the early days of the internet, etiquette was important and you could be banned from IRC channels, forums… for offences that today would be considered mild. It would sting, you would learn how to behave and move to other IRC servers or forums. Decentralization allowed that.

Now Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn see themselves as all-encompassing platforms. But they aren’t the internet and they shouldn’t strive to be. Banning these bad actors is not such a big deal and it is the right thing to do. I know a bot…

Photo credit: Detail from « Mule Kicking » by Eadward Muybridge, 1887