Editor of Breitbart Tech, and rather flamboyant and outrageous social media conservative, Milo Yiannopoulos, was stripped of his blue verification check on the Twitters. His twitter handle, @Nero, is now just like anyone else’s. Anyone who has over 140,000 followers, that is.
So what? If you never knew of or cared about Milo’s existence before, his deverification is unlikely to keep you awake at night. If you wish to learn more about him, you can do it on your own. I can’t help you.
But this has given rise to an epic twitter shitstorm, implicating the new cry of censorship. To be clear, this is not a First Amendment issue, as Twitter is not the government and can act as capriciously as it wants, the law of contract notwithstanding. But Milo had no contractual claim to a blue check in his Twitter bio.
According to the Twitters, the purpose of blue check is an indication, in the Twitterverse, that the user is a “somebody” to Twitter.
Verification is currently used to establish authenticity of identities of key individuals and brands on Twitter.
The Google explanation is a bit more meaningful:
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.
The blue check distinguishes the Twitter bio of the authentic person from those who might impersonate someone worthy of impersonation. In other words, there is an actual reason to be verified if you are someone of sufficient celebrity. And for that reason, the blue check has become something of a status symbol on the Twitters.
At the same time, the blue check is handed out like candy to people who work for businesses, what the Twitters call “brands,” without regard to whether the individual’s identities matter or not. As an example, when Cristian Farias wrote for Fault Lines, his Twitter bio bore no check. As soon as he was stolen away by Huff Post, a blue check magically appeared. Cristian was the same brilliant writer, but his status was altered by his employment.
As this isn’t a First Amendment issue, why then has Milo’s being de-verified given rise to this shitstorm? The de-verification has been used as a method of punishment for unspoken transgressions.
I’ve been sat on the naughty table! pic.twitter.com/2ppJ3X4J62
— Milo Yiannopoulos (@Nero) January 8, 2016
On the right wing side, this is viewed as Twitter having used its arbitrary bit of control to undermine its conservative perspective. Mind you, Milo remains on Twitter, has gained 20,000 followers as a result of Twitter’s action, and is, if anything, more well-known now than before. On the left wing side, this is a vindication of liberal and feminist claims.
For a man who has enjoyed the privilege of a large platform to be sent a clear message that his behaviour is unacceptable, I’m sure it feels pretty disorientating.
But if, as Milo believes, he has been unverified for his comments online, this is a victory for anyone who has watched social media descend into a cesspit of vulgar misogyny and savage provocation. It’s a hugely positive step towards dealing with online trolls by making a conscious decision to refuse to legitimise them.
So says Jessie Thompson, an editorial assistant at Huff Post, who, ironically, has a blue check on her Twitter bio and, as of this writing, has 4405 followers and is on one list.
Let’s get one thing straight. This is not a freedom of speech issue. Milo still has a Twitter account, which he is still able to use to tweet to his 134,000 followers – which he has been doing, continuously, mostly just with photos of his own face.
So, since his claims that he’s being censored are disingenuous, one can only assume that Milo’s tantrum is because losing his blue badge feels like the loss of a status symbol. If he no longer has the blue tick, he is no longer seen as a key individual on Twitter. If he no longer has the blue tick, how do we know Milo Yiannopoulos really EXISTS? (Unfortunately, he does.)
Thompson conflates First Amendment with censorship, but in her zeal to pre-emptively attack, adds to the explanation of why Milo’s de-verification matters. If it was inconsequential, it would be unworthy of any need to use it to claim “victory.”
Is Milo an “online troll”? To those who despise him, sure. Of course, the word troll has devolved in definition to anyone you hate, so merely calling someone a troll makes it so. But Thompson is right about one thing, that Twitter is using this trivial smack to influence thought and behavior on its medium. That it has the authority to do so isn’t in dispute.
But the efficacy of free speech depends on the speaker being able to express his opinion where someone would hear it. As shopping malls displaced the village square as the place where people congregated, the law took notice. The mall was private property, and yet it was where the public could be found, creating an irreconcilable conflict.
In the virtual world, the Twitters is the new village green. As a private entity, Twitter can mow the lawn any damn way it pleases, but its arbitrary use of rules to favor one political perspective and punish another demonstrates the impact private technology can have on the dissemination of ideas that some find reprehensible.
Will Twitter’s trivial smackdown of Milo matter to Milo? Clearly not, as the Streisand Effect has elevated his profile. That SJWs have seized upon it as proof of their righteous victimhood at the hands of people like Milo has emboldened their choir as well as their detractors.
Will the exposure of Twitter’s attempt at mind control be the death of Twitter? Of course not. If the Twitters dies, it will be suicide, not murder, as it exists as an unsustainable business model, incapable of generating sufficient revenues despite its popularity to survive. But it does serve to remind users that platforms don’t love them, can’t remain above the fray, enough to remain loyal.
A new platform will come along one day, just as Twitter did, and its shininess will induce people to come to it. No one wants to speak their mind in an empty room, including the SJWs who need antagonists like @Nero to rally their own troops to hate, ridicule and attack. Left to their own devices on Twitter, they will either grow bored with hearing their own whining or cannibalize themselves for lack of anyone else to hate. No tears will be shed when people rush to leave Twitter for the next new thing.
Blue check or not, Milo has been firmly established in the pantheon of Twitter users who matter, courtesy of Twitter’s effort to diminish his worth. There was no victory to be had by feminists in his punishment, and the absence of a blue check on his Twitter bio will be a badge of honor. Even though the village green is now online and in private hands, the mechanics of censorship still depend more on the willingness of people to listen than the pressure to silence.
The passive-aggressive attack by people with blue checks but of little consequence, like Jessica Thompson, can’t close the marketplace of ideas. The price of Milo went up, and the price of feminism went down, as has Twitter’s stock price. That’s how free speech happens.