Tech by VICE

Twitter Announces Safety Panel Then Bans an Account Critical of Twitter Safety

by Jason Koebler
Feb 9 2016, 9:13pm

Screencap: Twitter

On the day Twitter announced a new "Trust and Safety Council," the social network again suspended an account that calls attention to the plight of people who have been harassed on Twitter.

My colleague Sarah Jeong followed the saga of Trusty Support, a Twitter Support parody account that has been, as she wrote, "lampooning the absurdities of the Report Abuse system" by tweeting about the network's canned and automated responses to harassment and death threats.

Trusty Support was briefly suspended toward the end of last week over what Twitter says was a trademark issue, but was reinstated after a few hours. After changing its logos and names, Trusty Support would have seemed to have been in the clear.

And then Twitter suspended the account for about an hour again on Tuesday, just as the account was tweeting out anonymous stories of harassment that Twitter users had submitted. At least one of those tweets (embedded below) was well on its way to going viral.

The account had also been criticizing Twitter's newly announced Trust and Safety Council, which is a group of organizations and people that will "provide input on [Twitter's] safety products, policies, and programs." Twitter has not specifically said anything about how it will use that safety council to fight harassment.

"We have no idea what happened," one of the users behind Trusty Support told me via email. "We were critiquing Twitter's announcement of a new technology for advertisers 'First Look' released at the same time as the 'council' on safety. Pointing out that users would like some technology to stop abuse, not just a list of organizations that already exist."

The users behind Trusty Support say they received no information from Twitter about the suspension or its subsequent reinstatement (they found out because they were unable to post a tweet). The group theorizes that it was suspended for the duration of Periscope livestream about "online safety" taking place at Twitter's London headquarters. The group had retweeted a link to that live feed, presumably attracting users who aren't happy with Twitter's handling of harassment.

"No email, no reason given, and no email or reason when we were unsuspended," Trusty Support told me. "We re-tweeted this live event they were having in London at Twitter HQ and we were suspended moments later. Perhaps they suspended us for the duration of that event?"

Twitter spokesperson Nu Wexler directed me to this tweet, which reads "Someday, my tombstone will read 'He did not comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons.'"

Update: Trusty Support says it has just gotten an email from Twitter saying its account was "suspended in error."

In any case, it's not a good look for Twitter to be silencing its critics on the same day that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced the safety council with a tweet stating that Twitter "stands for freedom of expression, speaking truth to power, and empowering dialogue. That starts with safety." Without direct access to Twitter's internal correspondence and data, it's hard to know how many accounts are "suspended in error," but it is curious that the account was suspended at the precise moment it was being critical of Twitter's new initiatives.