Twitter has been going from one controversy to another and this time, it’s a big one. This has to do with the removal of the verification status of Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial journalist, stating that he violated their rules of conduct. Yiannopoulos works for conservative outlet Breitbart News and he received a letter from Twitter saying he has been stripped of his blue check mark on Twitter.
Twitter’s account verification, which marks a user’s profile with the official blue verified tick badge, is given to highly sought celebrities and public figures or those at risk of impersonation, to establish authenticity of identities. Currently there is no way for the general user to get Twitter verified.
Yiannopoulos, needless to say, reacted negatively and has sparked a freedom of speech debate.
They don’t like me and want to give me a slap on the wrist.
Twitter did not explain why his status was removed. However, it is no secret that the journalist likes to provoke and is usually at the forefront of controversial debates on the platform. He was at the heart of #Gamergate, which discussed the representation of women in video games. Twitter has suspended him in the past for his behavior.
Twitter has made a public commitment to fight harassment and bullying on the platform as it has frequently been criticized about being too inconsistent, slow and vague. In response, the Trust and Safety Team has been urged to take a harder stand against any online abuse and to be more aggressive in the enforcement of its rules. One of the things the team has done is to update their rules and provide better detailing of offenses including:
Inciting others to harass another user.
If the reported user is sending harassing messages to a user from multiple accounts.
Twitter does not tell people who report an account why their report has or has not been denied. Those who are sanctioned may have a temporary suspension on their account, they may be permanently banished, or they may have their blue tick removed.
While all agree that it is difficult to stop abusive behavior on Twitter, particularly since the platform always wants to champion free speech, it is vital that they are able to stop abusive behavior. In Yiannopoulos’ case, Twitter could have taken a number of steps. Some say that removing the blue tick was simply a half measure, as it could have also suspended him or banned him altogether. By removing the blue tick, his microphone has simply been weakened and some say that this equates to censorship.
The removal of the blue check also means that users cannot know for sure that he is who he says he is. The tick is very important for people in the public eye, who are often impersonated. Additionally, when an account is verified (which is done haphazardly to celebrities, politicians and journalists), they show up first in searches.
Yiannopoulos claims that the rules on Twitter are opaque at best and that their enforcement is inconsistent. He also feels that criticism and ridicule are seen as harassment and bullying on the platform. He believes that the rules need to be thrown out and completely rewritten and he feels that his conservative stand is what has gotten him banned. Yet, Shaun King, a left leaning columnist for the New York Daily News, is one of many who have had their accounts suspended.
At present, all that Twitter has done is make Yiannopoulos even more popular. He now has 142,000 followers and his hashtag #JeSuisMilo has started to trend. According to Yiannopoulos, Twitter’s actions have been counterproductive. He is also concerned about the fact that impersonation accounts have started to emerge. He also states that he hasn’t been told how to get his blue tick back, although he did state that he would not change the way he behaves on the platform.