Content note: This post discusses sexual violence and rape threats
Actor Rose McGowan has been suspended from Twitter, for speaking out against sexual violence in Hollywood. It’s likely that what got her kicked was telling Ben Affleck to fuck off for his role in covering for a sexual abuser.
I know a fair amount about Twitter suspensions. While I’ve only ever been on the wrong end of one, once–if I remember rightly, I told a man to fuck off, too–many of my friends have been suspended. There’s two ways in which it goes down: swearing at a verified account, or being mass-reported by people in an orchestrated silencing attempt. These mass-reports happen, usually, when a man is offended–or a transmisogynistic bigot, who, as we know, borrow all their tactics from the Nazi playbook.
The problem is becoming so prevalent, I’ve set up a back-up account for when the fash come for me–follow @thestavvening, just in case.
Twitter’s policies on banning and suspending are notoriously opaque, so it’s not possible to say with any certainty what is going on, just what I have witnessed as an active Twitter user for over eight years. These are the reasons people get banned or suspended, while all the while I can report tweets threatening to rape me until my clicking finger wears away to a nub, and nothing is done.
I’m not sure whether Rose McGowan fell foul of the algorithm protecting verified accounts from naughty words, or a mass-report, but either is a preposterous reason to suspend someone: whether a celebrity, or those more commonly banned–trans women, black women, women of colour, queer women…
The former is a manifestation of the two-tier Twitter which has emerged. If you have a verified account, you are protected from people saying rude words like “fuck”, “shit” and “pissflaps”. Someone says swear in your mentions, and they are smacked with the banhammer. Anyone can get the blue tick of swear-protection. To earn this right, all you need to do is send Twitter your personal data, so they can sell it on. This, in and of itself, is absurd. You also may have picked up from my tone that I think it is utterly risible that a few naughty words are the thing they’re picking up on. At best, it’s crude: people swear for a variety of reasons, and as much of it is non-aggressive (“You look so fucking gorgeous!”) as is aggressive. It’s also notable that a vast quantity of actual abuse doesn’t feature a single swear word. When a Nazi is threatening to rape me with a chainsaw, he isn’t using a word you can’t say on telly before 9 o’ clock.
Which brings me onto the broader issue: the actual abusers–the Nazis, the doxxers, the TERFs, the racists, the misogynists–they’re very good at gaming the system. It’s apparent in their care to avoid using curse words in their rape threats, but it’s equally apparent in their tactics.
Back in the more innocent days of the internet, many of those who would later become neo-Nazis occupied themselves in more wholesome pursuits. These included forum wars, often including “ToSing” enemy forums. This involved using the terms of service of the forum hosting platform to get the enemy forum banned. Almost every bit of user-generated content on the internet is breaking the terms of service somewhere or other: you might say something a bit rude, link to something a bit sexy, use political slogans which offend some. One report usually doesn’t flag much up in the system. But many reports do. I was on forums that got ToSed, wandering through digital space like a caravan, trying to find a hosting platform that’d have us.
And I see the exact same tactics in play with the mass-reports on Twitter. One report–often from the victim of a rape threat or a doxxing–doesn’t do jack diddly shit. But when many report, in an attempt usually orchestrated in other online platforms, action is triggered. And this is how people who speak truth to power are silenced. The Nazis have their spaces where they organise, as do their faithful tribute act, the TERFs. Even the centrists have their whatsapp groups where they can decide to get a black woman banned for thinking differently to them. This is what is going on behind the scenes: how the abusers have turned Twitter’s abuse policy into a tool for abuse.
We’ve been on at Twitter for years to jolly well sort its life out, but it hasn’t. It still refuses to understand the nature of the problem in order to even begin to attack it. They do not understand the dynamics of power in play in abuse, and they have no intention of doing so.
I hope that Rose McGowan’s suspension may achieve what has been sorely necessary: an open discussion of how unfit for purpose Twitter’s mechanisms for dealing with abuse are. Lower profile, more marginalised women have been victims of the abuse of abuse policies for years. Perhaps now a celebrity has been targeted, we can talk.
Or perhaps–and this is sadly more likely–Rose McGowan will be demonised for saying “fuck”.