Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative writer who once crashed a White House press briefing to ask the government about Twitter’s enforcement of its own rules against him, was permanently suspended from Twitter on Tuesday night. The suspension — effectively, a ban — comes one day after Twitter promised to take action against a barrage of racist tweets targeting “Ghostbusters” actor Leslie Jones.
Although the company did not directly link Yiannopoulos’s suspension to the recent harassment against Jones by name, Twitter said in a statement responding to the suspension that it had taken several actions against individual users, including permanent suspensions, “over the past 48 hours” in response to “an uptick in the number of accounts” violating its anti-harassment and abuse policies.
“People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online,” the statement reads. Twitter also hinted at changes to its hateful conduct policy and its abuse reporting mechanisms “in the coming weeks.”
Twitter cited its rules “prohibiting participating in or inciting targeted abuse of individuals” in its suspension notice to Yiannopoulos, a screenshot of which was posted to Breitbart Tech (where he works). In a statement, Yiannopoulos called his suspension “cowardly,” and said the action proved Twitter was now “a no-go zone for conservatives.”
“Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left,” he added.
In recent years, Yiannopoulos has fashioned himself into a champion of the alt-right, a nebulous, online grouping of meme lords, Gamergaters, and “anti-PC” conservative activists who regularly target its opponents — liberals, feminists, establishment Republicans to name of few — with mockery and trolling campaigns that can and do quickly escalate into something much worse.
Recently, Yiannopoulos has targeted Twitter itself, especially as the company increasingly cracks down on abusive speech and other uses of the platform that violate its rules — rules that Yiannopoulos and many of his supporters see as intolerably unfriendly to free speech.
Twitter once called itself a member of the“the free speech wing of the free speech party,” but that has shifted as the company fights against its dismal reputation for handling instances of abuse on its platform. It has increased the reach of its site rules recently, which now include a ban on “hateful conduct,” in addition to abusive behavior and direct threats. In recent months, Twitter has also accelerated its response to this problem by cracking down against some of its worst rule-breakers.
In January, Twitter removed Yiannopoulos’s blue verification checkmark from his account, again citing rule violations, and he has been suspended before — temporarily — multiple times.
Yiannopoulos often pointed to new or existing enemies of the alt-right using his popular Twitter account, which had more than 300,000 followers at the time of suspension. On Monday, he posted several tweets mocking Jones and her response to the barrage of racist tweets. “EVERYONE GETS HATE MAIL FFS” one tweet read. When Jones tweeted that she had reported his account to Twitter, the Breitbart writer responded, “Barely literate. America needs better schools!”
Jones quit Twitter on Monday after enduring a constant stream of racist memes and insults, targeting the actress “’cause I did a movie,” she wrote.
The vicious tweets included many references to Harambe, the gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a child fell into his enclosure. Jones’s retweets of some of the worst stuff she was getting prompted widespread calls for Twitter to do something about it.
Eventually, they said they would:
“Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans,” Yiannopoulos said in his statement. “We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot. This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.”
Here’s Twitter’s full statement:
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.
[This post has been updated]