I tweeted what was intended as satire of a festering right-wing panic over Antifa allegedly planning violence on November 4. It got weird from there.
Image by Lia Kantrowitz
What is it like to attend your own funeral? In my mind, it has to be something like waking up on a Monday morning, logging onto Twitter, and finding out that your account, 112,000 followers and all, has been suspended. You can see everything everyone is saying about you, but you cannot cry out "LOL." Nobody can hear you. Your 140 characters exist in a void.
To be clear, much of what transpires online is Extremely Dumb, and there are many more important things happening in the world right now than some white guy's lefty humor account getting 86'd. But my temporary—the account was restored late Monday—ouster from the outlet I use so often does speak to a persistent problem with one of the world's largest social media platforms. It's a place where suspensions often seem to be dished out in arbitrary fashion, and clamping down on, say, actual racism or misogyny is a work in progress at best. A few weeks ago, actress Rose McGowan endured a suspension after speaking out strongly about her allegation of rape against disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein. McGowan is verified, which should theoretically provide some protection from this stuff, but Twitter (temporarily) shut her down, later citing the fact that she allegedly posted a screenshot of a private phone number.
The ensuing uproar was loud enough that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey felt compelled to publicly promise to update the company's standards. But as anyone who uses Twitter knows, the company's process for addressing this sort of thing has long been fucked all the way down to its roots, and the problem may be getting worse. Twitter's "safety" system appears to be mostly based on a combination of keywords and frequency of reports, so if a group of extremely alpha gamergate types decide they don't like someone, all they need to do is wait to see the right word and then coordinate a mass-reporting.
In my case, I decided to mock festering panic over an exceedingly fake Civil War plot for which thousands of FOX News grandparents may, at this very moment, be boarding up their windows in panicked preparation. Right wingers have a predilection for fearing Antifa, despite the fact that they only seem to show up at neo-Nazi rallies and to protest police brutality. Anyone with a single crease in their brain could see that my post was satire, but alas, the internet has no shortage of morons, and the tweet was apparently reported into oblivion. The ensuing suspension was so thorough that my work account was axed for using the same phone number. (I reached out to Twitter for comment in connection with this story, but had yet to hear back at the time of publication.)
If you doubt the utter gullibility of the people I'm referencing, look no further than this article from the Gateway Pundit, which breathlessly reported the obvious parody, after it was tweeted again by someone else, as factual news. (This is a "publication" that at least at one point had White House press credentials, by the way.) I should qualify here that while I have no love whatsoever for fascists, I am neither the president, the chairman, nor the CEO of Antifa. Either the author of the aforementioned piece was cynically using the joke to stoke the fears of elderly conservatives, or else he is just a fucking idiot.
People have screamed for years about the weird shit Twitter inexplicably tolerates, chiefly the ability of coordinated hate mobs to drive people off of the site. But if you weren't familiar with my account before, all I can say is that it was significantly less toxic than that of the American Nazi Party. I may have poked fun at the Scaramucci Post's editorial strategy or Mike Huckabee's inconceivably bad attempts at jokes. But weren't those jabs less worthy of punishment than say, calling for America to return to an all-white ethno-state?
Maybe it's just me.
If I have some hope going forward, it would be that Twitter start from scratch on the whole security thing. It's been ten years, and the entire system is clearly broken at its core. But since that seems unlikely, I guess my slightly more reasonable expectation is that this joke continues to pick up steam in right-wing circles (as it appears to be doing). The last time a bunch of white supremacists were tricked into believing something like this, a mob of them showed up at a confederate graveyard to fight the nonexistent Antifa threat, and one guy ended up accidentally shooting himself in the leg. Just saying.
Despite being suspended (and at least temporarily reinstated) from twitter dot com, the fallout from the joke has been infinitely amusing and, again, it's just the Internet we're talking about. Would I be sad if my joke-post incited a civil war? Sure. But I am glad to, at least for now, have a means of skewering our pathetic politics relentlessly.
Follow Krang T. Nelson on Twitter.