That was nothing new, either.
The 2016 election has brought a very ugly side of America to the surface. Using the anonymity it affords users, social media — particularly Twitter — has become a haven of hate, harassment and threats. One targeted group has been conservatives, many of us Jewish, who have openly stated that we will not vote for Trump in November. Our reward? Harassment, anti-Semitism and threats of physical violence, including death. The perpetrators? Trump supporters and the alt-right, a white supremacist movement that is ecstatic to see Trump running for president. According to the Anti-Defamation League, they believe mainstream conservatives are “opposed to white interests.” The attacks of these people are persistent and pervasive. They reveal the ignorance, ugliness and insecurities of the alt-right.
Of course, many of the conservatives that I know report these threatening tweets to Twitter and hope that the service will take action. Spoiler: They do not.
Take, for example, the Twitter account @yugetrunk, the sole purpose of which seems to be to harass and threaten minorities and Jews opposed to Trump — which meets the very definition of abusive behavior as defined by Twitter under its rules. Last month, I reported it for asking when I would be sent to the gas chambers (in a tweet that was later deleted). Twitter responded by saying they had locked and suspended the account. The moment I received the email, I employed Ronald Reagan’s trust but verify approach: @yugetrunk was still there, tweeting more and more vile hate, which continued, unabated, until Twitter was asked for comment prior to publication of this piece.
And what I’ve faced has been relatively tame. The reporter Julia Ioffe, who isn’t a conservative, received a deluge of anti-Semitic tweets, emails and more after she wrote a less-than-glowing profile of Melania Trump — which the presidential candidate declined to disavow, and which Melania Trump later said Ioffe had brought on herself. Bethany Mandel, a fellow anti-Trump conservative, has received so much hate that she felt she had to buy a gun. One account, @Jewish_Marksman, regularly targets her (although its user claims to be Jewish), even claiming to be the vice president of her fan club. Mandel told me she reported the account to Twitter for harassment, but they responded that it was not violating the site’s policy. Madness. Another account, @KingAntiochus, sent her a picture many of us have come to know all too well: Trump in Nazi regalia, pushing the button to start the execution of the tweet’s recipient, pictured in a gas chamber. (That account was eventually suspended.)
Twitter has engaged in behavior that has made conservatives believe the company views them as second-class citizens. Some conservatives had already been wondering whether Twitter’s safety enforcement team is subjecting right-of-center accounts to harsher scrutiny. Whether the site really does treat Republicans differently isn’t clear to me.
But there’s no question that Twitter is doing a terrible job at handling the harassment, hate and threats that users are experiencing. The service’s staffers seems to view our complaints as bothersome and want to sweep them away as soon as possible.
Once The Washington Post asked Twitter for a response to this piece, I got an email saying the service had “re-reviewed” the complaint that the “hunting you” tweet was a threat and found it to be a violation of their terms of service. They also purged many of @yugetrunk’s tweets. [Editor’s note: Twitter’s official policy bans threats of violence, as well as threats on the basis of categories such as religion, national origin or ethnicity, among others. The service says it has suspended some of the accounts that attack Trump opponents and that the Anti-Defamation League is part of its Trust & Safety Council.]
The threats and harassment are happening to many of us conservatives against Trump. Mandel, Ben Shapiro, Rick Wilson, Erick Erickson, I and many others face this hate. This is not a situation where we are like the left’s “social justice warriors,” easily offended or feeling threatened by the slightest discomfort. In fact, many of Trump’s critics who’ve been targeted by the alt-right also routinely criticize liberals for their hypersensitivity to everything. We do not have a meltdown and protest when a cafeteria serves an “inauthentic” Asian dish because they substituted ingredients, and we don’t seek to ban algebra at a university because it is culturally insensitive. That is just plain ridiculous.
But an anonymous Twitter account telling you that someone is going to kill you for expressing your political opinion is a real threat. These could be followed by physical harm and violence. We take them seriously and expect others to follow suit.