The recent aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein revelations saw a number of actors speak out about their experiences with the powerful producer. Rose McGowan has accused the producer of an attack and is a vocal critic of the wider culture of sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood. Using Twitter as a platform, she has spoken to, and about, others in Hollywood who enable such abuse.
On October 12th, Twitter suspended McGowan's account, forcing her to post the news of her suspension on Instagram. The automated message she received explained little -- just that her account violated Twitter's conduct policy, but nothing specific that explained the 12-hour suspension. During that period, the only access she had to the platform was to delete the offending tweet.
It's not clear if Twitter gained McGowan's consent before going public, but it was clearly forced to say something. The company had rebuffed all attempts to clarify its position, despite Engadget and other publications asking for comment on the reasoning behind the move. This lack of transparency led to the company being attacked on all sides for its opaque processes, with many users saying that double standards are at work. After all, the president can threaten nuclear war without censure, but Rose McGowan tweets something and it's blocked with unnatural swiftness.
Blocking the tweet was the right thing to do, but everything that came after that was a mistake that began to compound upon itself. Surely there are smarter ways to tackle the issue than just handing down a 12-hour suspension as a punishment. The topic here is clearly divisive, and Twitter needed to handle it carefully rather than following a procedure. Could it not, for instance, have suppressed that one message and then privately communicated its reasoning?
Early Thursday, Twitter told Engadget that it does not "comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons." Fair enough, but that meant that it remained silent for 12 hours while its motivations were left open for speculation by, well, everyone in the world. This highlights the impossible situation that Twitter now finds itself in: How can it be fine with hate speech, racism and the American Nazi Party but be so quick to clamp down on a single woman speaking out against sexual abuse?
In addition to this troubling double standard, there's the concern that moving to block McGowan's account was an anomaly. Writer Natalie Shure pointed out that her phone number was shared by a right-wing extremist last year, and Twitter didn't consider it a violation of its conduct policy. We've spoken before about how inconsistently its conduct policies are treated. Clearly, something has to give.
If this were an isolated incident, Twitter could shrug it off. But it's not -- the site has become an unwelcome place for many. Today, a group of the site's female users are boycotting the site in the hope of forcing its hand in doing better. It probably won't work because Twitter already has the tools to clean up its membership in a heartbeat. In Germany, where the laws on extremism on social media are much tougher, the site blocks all neo-Nazi accounts as a matter of course. In the US? Not so much.