Ever since alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos sent actress Leslie Jones a string of tweets insulting the comedian’s race and intelligence, Twitter has made banning abusive accounts a priority.
At the time, the company offered a statement, which read in part:
. . . our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others . . . 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
Recently Twitter suspended more accounts associated with the alt-right, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization.”
Included among them was the verified account of Richard Spencer, whom The Washington Post described as a leader of the alt-right and “one of the most media-savvy thinkers in the movement.”
Twitter also suspended the account of the Virginia-based National Policy Institute, an alt-right white nationalist think tank of which Spencer is the president, and that of Radix Journal, a magazine run by Spencer.
Paul Town, Pax Dickinson, Ricky Vaughn and John Rivers also had their accounts suspended.
In response, Spencer posted a video to YouTube in which he said, “I am alive physically, but digitally speaking, there has been execution squads across the alt-right.”
“It’s corporate Stalinism, in the sense that there is a great purge going on, and they’re purging people on the basis of their views,” Spencer said.
He said these suspensions are unlike Yiannopoulos’s.
“I supported people like Milo when they were banned from Twitter, but Milo was engaging in something that could be called ‘harassment,’” Spencer said of the man who used the platform to call Jones “barely literate,” “fat and ugly, ugly, ugly, fat” and “a hot black dude.”
Added Spencer, “Again, I totally think he should have stayed.”
Spencer, though, drew a sharp distinction between the way Yiannopoulos used the platform and the way he did.
“I and a number of other people who just got banned were not even trolling,” he said. “I was using Twitter just like I always used Twitter: to give people some updates and maybe comment on a news story here and there.”
Instead, Spencer said he thinks this was a “coordinated effort to just wipe out alt-right Twitter” in response to arguments that social media helped elect Donald Trump.
“Twitter and probably Facebook too . . . I think they are deeply triggered by Trump’s election,” Spencer said. “I think they’re triggered by this narrative that social media helped elect Trump and they think that they have to do something about it. Well, the fact is social media did help elect Trump.”
Heidi Beirich, spokeswoman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the USA Today that the organization had previously asked Twitter to remove more than 100 accounts of white supremacists but said on Monday (before the suspensions), “They have done nothing.”
Spencer compared the account suspensions to the Night of Long Knives, also known as Operation Hummingbird, in which Hitler ordered “a bloody purge of his own political party, assassinating hundreds of Nazis whom he believed had the potential to become political enemies in the future,” according to History.com.
The video’s title is “The Knight of Long Knives,” a play on the operation’s name.
Many on Twitter expressed confusion and outrage concerning Spencer’s suspension.
“Richard Spencer advocates for my people, doesn’t hate anyone, is a gentleman, and a friend, and Twitter suspended him,” one user tweeted. “
Pax Dickinson and Richard Spencer have been banned from Twitter. The left knows social media helped Trump and is cracking down,” tweeted another.
Spencer said that this could be seen as a victory for the alt-right movement.
“This is a clear sign that we have power,” he said. “Even if it’s in our own little small way . . . we have power, and we’re changing the world.”
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment from USA Today, stating, “We don’t comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons.”
Finally, Spencer mentioned that he might transition to GAB, a social media platform used by many who identify with the alt-right. It prides itself on free speech. On its landing page, the platform includes a quote from writer and poet Charles Bukowski, “Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others.”
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