WBTV News of Charlotte last night sent out an advisory on Twitter to its audience: “LIVE NOW: Protesters on I-277 stopping traffic and surrounding vehicles. AVOID. Watch live » http://3wb.tv/1TGw8DS #KeithLamontScott.” That was just one of the scenes in a second night of civil unrest following the shooting death of Keith L. Scott, a 43-year-old black man, by a police officer outside an apartment complex.
@Instapundit responded to WBTV’s tweet with a simple message, as captured above: “Run them down.” After that tweet surfaced, @Instapundit’s account was suspended by Twitter.
An inquiry to Twitter fetched no information about this particular circumstance, as the company doesn’t address individual account actions. Like any established social media network, though, Twitter has conduct rules. Perhaps it penalized @Instapundit under this provision: “Violent threats (direct or indirect): You may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism.”
In a post on the matter, @Instapundit didn’t exactly bail on the tweet: “Sorry, blocking the interstate is dangerous, and trapping people in their cars is a threat. Driving on is self-preservation, especially when we’ve had mobs destroying property and injuring and killing people. But if Twitter doesn’t like me, I’m happy to stop providing them with free content.” He further explained that he’s a supporter of peaceful protest and accountability for police officers. “But riots aren’t peaceful protest. And blocking interstates and trapping people in their cars is not peaceful protest — it’s threatening and dangerous, especially against the background of people rioting, cops being injured, civilian-on-civilian shootings, and so on. I wouldn’t actually aim for people blocking the road, but I wouldn’t stop because I’d fear for my safety, as I think any reasonable person would.”
In an email exchange, the Erik Wemple Blog asked whether some other formulation — like “keep driving” past them — would have struck a less threatening tone. “Probably, as that was what I actually meant. But I’ve had over 580K tweets, and they can’t all be perfect,” he responded. Yes, this was not perfect. The call to ram protesters with motor vehicles occasioned quite a social media backlash.
@Instapundit is many things: It’s Glenn Reynolds, the Beauchamp Brogan distinguished professor of law at University of Tennessee College of Law; a contributing columnist for USA Today; and an author. We’ve asked USA Today if it has anything to say about the matter.
As we were writing this post, @Instapundit appears to have resolved his account freeze with Twitter:
Twitter has unblocked my account on condition of deleting the offending tweet. I've done so, but it's here:: https://t.co/DDkZd2el6Y
— Instapundit.com (@instapundit) September 22, 2016
That gesture notwithstanding, Reynolds is souring on the platform. He says he deleted the “Run them down” tweet “so that I can tweet my response to this affair. But once that’s over, I intend to shut it down. I don’t see why I should provide content to a platform that will shut me down without notice.”