When Twitter suspended Richard Spencer just after the elections, the white nationalist said the platform was “purging people on the basis of their views.” On Saturday, Twitter said that Spencer’s account had been restored — and that, despite widespread assumptions that Spencer was banned for violating the site’s prohibition on “hateful conduct,” or harassment, he was actually booted from the platform for violating its policy against having multiple, overlapping accounts.
Spencer’s personal account reappeared on Twitter on Saturday night, complete with the blue verification check mark he had before his suspension.
His other accounts, including one for the white nationalist think tank he runs and another for his magazine, were not restored.
“Our rules explicitly prohibit creating multiple accounts with overlapping uses,” a Twitter spokesman told The Washington Post on Sunday. “When we temporarily suspend multiple accounts for this violation, the account owner can designate one account for reinstatement.” Twitter also confirmed that despite Spencer’s claim on Twitter that he’d next have his other accounts restored, the company would allow him to use only one of the banned accounts.
Twitter also provided a copy of the email it sent Spencer before restoring his account:
As referenced in our November 18, 2016 communication, creating serial and/or multiple accounts with overlapping use is a violation of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules[twitter.com]).
Please select one account for restoration; the others will remain suspended. This account will need to comply fully with the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules[twitter.com]). Please reply to this email with the username of the account you would like reinstated and we will make sure to answer your request in a timely manner.
Spencer is responsible for coining the term “alt-right,” and has emerged from the online fringe and been put in the spotlight of several national, mainstream media outlets in the weeks since Donald Trump was elected president. Spencer has become the public face of the white nationalist movement that supported Trump, one that believes the next four years are the best chance white supremacists have to gain ground in the mainstream.
He is, in a way, a walking euphemism for white supremacy: alt-right is a softer, blanket term for a coalition of online activists with disparate points of view — embraced by groups that support racist, anti-Semitic or sexist views. He dresses in Brooks Brothers suits and prefers to call himself “identitarian” instead of racist. As The Post’s John Woodrow Cox pointed out in a profile of Spencer, even his organizations have boring-sounding names: Radix journal, National Policy Institute.
His suspension in mid-November came during an apparent crackdown on white nationalist and alt-right-identifying users, just as Twitter introduced new anti-harassment tools and made it easier for users to report violations of its “hateful conduct” policy, which bans people who “promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.”
At the time of Spencer’s suspension, Twitter issued a statement saying that “the Twitter Rules prohibit violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct, and multiple account abuse, and we will take action on accounts violating those policies.”
Pax Dickinson, Paul Town, Ricky Vaughn and John Rivers — all members of the alt-right movement — also had their accounts suspended around that time, leading to a widely popular theory among their supporters that Twitter was trying to purge the site of political views it didn’t like. Although Twitter didn’t give a specific reason at the time for those suspensions, the bans led many of their supporters to seek out other platforms, such as Gab, a Twitter and Reddit-like social network that’s popular with Trump supporters who don’t trust most of Silicon Valley.
The multiple-accounts policy that led to Spencer’s initial ban is also part of Twitter’s rules governing “abusive behavior.” The rule prohibits “creating multiple accounts with overlapping uses or in order to evade the temporary or permanent suspension of a separate account is not allowed.”
Twitter has had trouble, over the years, striking the balance it says it wants to find between protecting free speech and minimizing the effect of harassment and abusive behavior on the platform. The company struggles to enforce its rules consistently, and rarely comments on its reasoning behind the suspension of individual accounts, rendering much of the process opaque. That inconsistency has frustrated those who have pushed Twitter to do more about rampant harassment and abuse on the platform — as well as those who have been suspended under the site’s rules banning it.
The rise of the “alt-right” this year has only highlighted Twitter’s existing issues with harassment and rule enforcement. Twitter banned Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos over the summer for “inciting harassment,” after actress Leslie Jones was temporarily harassed off the site. But the incident raised the question of how much of a role media attention played in the decision to permanently suspend Yiannopoulos in that high-profile case — and whether lower-profile accounts, or less prominent victims of harassment, would prompt the same response.
That inconsistent scrutiny is something the latest changes to the company’s enforcement procedures are designed to improve.
For now, Spencer will get to keep his Twitter account as long as he “compl[ies] fully with the Twitter Rules,” the company said. In the hours after regaining access to his account, Spencer resumed his prolific tweeting: