If you aren’t familiar with @Milo – who he is, or the controversy on Twitter, I’m not going to provide a primer. I would encourage you to read the… news.
But, today, just to provide bearing, Twitter banned the controversial-but-popular gay conservative, Milo Yiannopoulos, from Twitter permanently.
Twitter tries to control the chaos through algorithms. When people report posts, they go to a team based on up-ranked complaints – and a combination of secret sauce that basically gradients posts for complaints. Time and time again, Milo got banned – often for saying things that outrages, but for which complied with Twitter’s rules.
Each time, an even greater controversy erupted. The temporary ban would then be lifted, often without comment from Twitter. More and more people opposing Milo began attacking his posts by using (or rather, abusing) the report post button, and people at Twitter – reportedly – got pretty bitter.
This time, Milo called out a prominent actress Leslie Jones – but without vulgarity or slurs. Offensively, perhaps, but quite tame by Twitter standards – particularly some of the bus exhaust sent my way. It was his followers than then made racial attacks and general harassment. Nobody accused Milo of encouraging this behavior. But, with Twitter employees harboring hate at Milo, it was apparently enough for them to act arbitrarily and capriciously against Milo.
Much like Reddit, Twitter can’t control the chaos. So they knowingly apply rules differently, to different classes of people. High profile artists and other icons get passes on saying things that might get you, or I, banned. Milo knew this, and pointed it out – by subjecting the people he opposes, to the same brutality that Twitter gives others a pass on.
If you think I’m being partisan, I’m not. I’m actually trying to help Twitter. I don’t follow @Milo. I don’t read the publication he writes for, Breitbart, unless someone encourages me to do so directly.
But by banning Milo, Twitter has made Milo into a martyr. Based on their public replies, I don’t think Twitter gets the ramifications of that just yet. Twitter should take this moment to learn, reflect, and reform.
The question of if Milo’s actions warranted banning, is only something I’m tangentially interested in. Within minutes of Milo’s ban, dozens of tweets far worse than whatever Milo posted – from high-profile, iconic users (who happened to have verified accounts) – started to deluge Twitter via the #FreeMilo hashtag. Milo had achieved his goal – pointing out unfair treatment by slumping to the level of those getting a pass. You can call that disgusting, you can call it virtuous civil disobedience. Either way, it proved a point.
How to Fix It
My opinion remains the same. Speech on the internet should be free. But there should be a different standard and level of control for those who link their real identities to their online identities.
This also, unfortunately, was a fault line between Twitter and Milo. Milo was one of the first to be rescinded his “verified account” status on Twitter. While Twitter refuses to comment on why, many believe it was a “warning” to Milo.
Since this hasn’t happened before – as far as anyone can tell… it would have been a great opportunity for Twitter to step forward and explain itself. But the bitterness towards Milo, likely clouded their judgement there.
This instead turned into a scarlet letter. By not explaining the action, Twitter took a prominent gay conservative, and punished him outside the rules of Twitter. They took something away, that they weren’t supposed to. While that may have been good-intentioned, to issue an action short of a ban – that wasn’t a ban – it had the result of both elevating Milo’s standing in the conservative movement, and also hurting Twitter’s image.
The solution should be that real identities have a higher standard, and more communication with Twitter. Users should be defaulted to down-ranking those who hide behind the mask of anonymous. This, in turn, will encourage verified accounts to act with less harassment, malice, and anger.
Open Your Hearts & Wallets
But that costs money. Rolling out verified profiles to everyone is not free – or would require collaboration between social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc are not likely to sign on to one verified-ID provider).
The saddest thing of all is that we have a system that could facilitate it, OpenID and OAuth. And most of these social network support it. But again, money. Each wants the power to make their accounts “authoritative” – each wants to find a way to verify accounts individually. And each is doing a terrible job.
So even though OpenID could allow a security provider to tie their credentials to your OpenID, that would then be linked to your Twitter/Facebook/Google+/etc – none of them want to allow a third-party provider to do that. So instead, chaos reigns.
Cry Not for Milo
Milo is now a living martyr. Half the conservative movement will now blast out his high-profile articles on Twitter as “Twitter-banned Gay Conservative Milo…” – and Twitter will have to bear the shame of that on a daily basis. Milo’s reach on Twitter is on the rise, and Twitter’s control of its community is on the way down.
I don’t think any of that is good. But I also don’t think Twitter will take the right actions to fix it.
As a result, I’m far less inclined to use Twitter. It’s great for being a low-information-voter’s RSS feed reader, or communicating with a few people that love the service… but I’m soured to it. Twitter can fix it, I just don’t know if they will.
I hope that they do.
Blog for Yourself, On Your Own Blog
Social networks, I believe, are going to eventually become link sharing sites. As more and more of this happens, people with opinions, will fall back to the way the internet worked before – holding their own domain names, that they only control.
Nor is Milo the only example of making others feel this way of late.
After all, you can’t be banned from posting on your own domain name. Nobody else can compromise your following, on the domain name that you own.
The future is to post on your own blog, and just link/discuss those posts on social media. That may kibosh the “micro” aspect of microblogging. But I think that may be the best thing of all. And I’m certainly going to do that myself going forward.