Last week, after a very public purge of accounts it deemed unfit for its platform in November, Twitter reinstated—and also re-verified—white supremacist and alt-right leader Richard Spencer. Upon jumping back in the saddle, Spencer, using a photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, sent out a tweet notifying the online world that he is in fact back. Which begs one question: Will his hate speech come back, too?
In November, Spencer was suspended from the platform for a “violation of multiple account policies.” Twitter is notorious for having issues when it comes to protecting users against harassment, despite the best efforts of CEO and cofounder Jack Dorsey, who oversaw the implementation of an extensive hateful conduct policy, part of which reads, “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.”
Twitter has received its fair share of criticism for playing a role in the rise of the alt-right community, the spread of fake news and assisting the agenda of President-elect Donald Trump. With Spencer’s removal in November, it seemed as though the tech giant took action against him to satisfy its user base, investors, actual verified news elites and celebrities and perhaps even Silicon Valley. For a second, the big, dramatic vote-off-the-island felt promising to those who felt Twitter was allowing rampant misogyny, homophobia and racism to toe the line of “free speech” a bit too freely.
Then Twitter invited Spencer back. This isn’t Europe, after all; here, hate speech is not illegal. It’s just some murky backwater that occupies the mosquito-ridden backyards of America the beautiful, land of the free.
And so now we need to question where the tributaries of harassment and hate can run freely off the great river of free speech. Are we to question the purpose and validity of Twitter and its verification process, which is essentially a social media status symbol? If Spencer is verified, does that not give him and his messages of hate certain legitimacy? Spencer seems to be excited of the prospect as he happily bubbles along on his Twitter account. For him, Twitter’s suspension was “corporate Stalinism.” His ban strengthened the argument of a growing number of alt-right maniacs who believe everything reported by the Big Four is “fake news.”
Thus far, one of the most famous booted verified Twitter members, Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos, has not been reinstated. In his case, Twitter made it very clear that he was suspended due to the targeted harassment of actress Leslie Jones, who was forced to leave to the platform.
Where does this leave Twitter, who just gave the controversial blog Breitbart News its very own blue tick of verification (and validation)? For all intensive matters, Dorsey’s “policy” has proved to just be lip service, save for the booting of Yiannopoulos, which was motivated more by media pressure than Yiannopoulos’s own tweets. It lends little hope to the establishment of an online PC police force by tech overlords. In the meantime, the left side’s obsession with “political correctness" should adopt a footnote, as Sally Kohn suggests in her TED talk: Don’t be politically correct. Just be emotional correct. That may even lead to a civil discussion that exceeds 140 characters.