Deputy Washington Editor of the New York Times, Jonathan Weisman, announced this morning that he is abandoning Twitter as a social media platform after Twitter bizarrely claimed that threatening to kill “k*kes” is not a violation of the company’s terms of service.
Twitter, like much of the Internet, has become a cesspool of hate. While I still enjoy using Twitter to follow my political contacts, the rest of the service is the realm of virtual superpredators who troll the service, in bands, waiting for someone — usually Jews and women — to pounce on.
Two of the most recent high-profile anti-Semitic attacks on Twitter against Times writers Julia Ioffe and Jonathan Weisman. Both were perpetrated by Donald Trump supporters.
Ioffe’s sin was writing a profile of Trump’s wife Melania for GQ magazine. Trump supporters swarmed Ioffe, sending her pictures of herself as a concentration camp victim, repeated jokes about Auschwitz and killing Jews, phone calls with recordings of Hitler on the other line, and they even tried to send a dead-body clean-up service to her home. Message received.
Weisman wrote a piece in the NYT about his experience:
The anti-Semitic hate, much of it from self-identified Donald J. Trump supporters, hasn’t stopped since. Trump God Emperor sent me the Nazi iconography of the shiftless, hooknosed Jew. I was served an image of the gates of Auschwitz, the famous words “Arbeit Macht Frei” replaced without irony with “Machen Amerika Great.” Holocaust taunts, like a path of dollar bills leading into an oven, were followed by Holocaust denial. The Jew as leftist puppet master from @DonaldTrumpLA was joined by the Jew as conservative fifth columnist, orchestrating war for Israel. That one came from someone who tagged himself a proud future member of the Trump Deportation Squad.
Weisman announced this morning that, at the request of senior officials at Twitter, he reported several of the worst tweets to the company. Twitter has now responded that the tweets are an entirely acceptable form of speech that does not in any way violate Twitter’s terms of service.
Here is a tweet that Weisman sent Twitter. Note that Weisman’s initial tweet was entirely innocuous:
I decided to review Twitter’s terms of service, and it sure sounds like calling Jews “kikes,” seizing their assets Hitler-style, and threatening to kill them in ovens concentration-camp style is a violation of the company’s TOS. Specifically, the following parts of Twitter’s “rules,” which are part of its TOS, and clearly relevant to the case above:
Any accounts and related accounts engaging in the activities specified below may be temporarily locked and/or subject to permanent suspension.
- Violent threats (direct or indirect): You may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism.
- Harassment: You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Some of the factors that we may consider when evaluating abusive behavior include:
– if a primary purpose of the reported account is to harass or send abusive messages to others;
– if the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats;
– if the reported account is inciting others to harass another account; and
– if the reported account is sending harassing messages to an account from multiple accounts.
- Hateful conduct: You may not 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. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.
Obviously, Weisman’s attacker is violating Twitter’s rules against “harassment” and “hateful conduct,” and in addition, the person is clearly making a “violent threat.”
There’s an interesting civil rights law question about Twitter’s refusal to police this effort to constructively kick Jews off of the service. If Twitter were a department store, and the store owners made it clear that they had no problem permitting Jews to be routinely forced out of the store by angry mobs, you’d likely have a civil rights lawsuit on your hands.
Now, civil rights laws about public accommodations weren’t written with the Internet in mind. You’d like need to update state and federal laws on the subject. But it would be interesting for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to start an investigation and see whether it has any wiggle room to get involved.
In the meantime, perhaps the ADL, among others, should start asking Twitter’s venture capital investors why they feel burning “k*kes” in ovens isn’t “violent,” “harassment,” or “hateful.”