The permanent suspension of controversial rightwing pundit Milo Yiannopoulos from Twitter has sparked a lively social media debate over trolling and free speech.
The Breitbart Tech editor, who tweeted under the @nero handle, was banned after a Ghostbusters review he wrote led to a torrent of racist abuse being directed at actress Leslie Jones.
In a statement after his suspension, Milo accused Twitter of acting “cowardly” and of being a “a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives”.
#FreeMilo was trending on Wednesday morning as Milo supporters claimed the ban was hypocritical and an attack on free speech.
Twitter has often been criticised for not doing enough to clamp down abusive accounts which it addressed in a statement about the Yiannopoulos incident.
People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Over the past 48 hours in particular, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of Tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension.
We know many people believe we have not done enough to curb this type of behavior on Twitter. We agree. We are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to better allow us to identify and take faster action on abuse as it’s happening and prevent repeat offenders. We have been in the process of reviewing our hateful conduct policy to prohibit additional types of abusive behavior and allow more types of reporting, with the goal of reducing the burden on the person being targeted. We’ll provide more details on those changes in the coming weeks.
Balancing free speech with curbing online abuse is proving tricky for all social media platforms.
Twitter has always had policies banning violent content and the advocacy of terrorism, but has often been criticised for not doing more to crack down on accounts until recently.
After the Nice attack last week, at least 50 accounts praising the murders were taken down.
Twitter said Yiannopoulos’s ban was in line with ‘The Twitter Rules’.
The section on “hateful conduct” reads:
You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.
The origin of the controversy was a review of Ghostbusters penned by Yiannopoulos in which he criticised Jones’s “flat-as-a-pancake black stylings” and described her as “a black character worthy of a minstrel show”.
The article prompted a number of racist tweets directed at Jones.
Yiannopoulos himself began mocking Jones and sharing fake tweets purporting to be from the actress herself.
The #FreeMilo hashtag was also used by those who supported the ban and to point out Twitter is in fact a private company, and access to it is not a human right.
The anonymity afforded by platforms like Twitter mean trolling is a huge problem.
A survey of 13 to 18 year olds found 24% reported they were targeted on the internet because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability or transgender identity.
One in 25 said they are singled out for abuse “all or most of the time”.
In a blog for The Huffington Post UK, Philips wrote:
In the last couple of weeks I have spoken to five different young women who told me they were going to stop posting blogs and tweeting about their politics and their views. Each one of them contacted me for support and advice about how to deal with the vitriol, sexism and misogyny they face every time they speak. The very first thing I said to every one of them was “don’t stop, whatever you do, don’t let it silence you.”
A number of high profile individuals have left Twitter due to abuse they received.
Stephen Fry quit in the aftermath of comments he made while presenting the BAFTAs saying he had grown tired with “sanctimoniously self-righteous” people.
Speaking afterwards he said: “Now the pool is stagnant. It is frothy with scum, clogged with wee and littered with broken glass, sharp rocks and slimy rubbish. If you don’t watch yourself, with every move you’ll end up being gashed, broken, bruised or contused.
“Even if you negotiate the sharp rocks you’ll soon feel that too many people have peed in the pool for you to want to swim there any more. The fun is over.”
More recently Owen Jones took a temporary break from the platform after growing tired of abusive comments from anonymous eggs.