The Meek Shall Inherit Twitter

A reader sent Eugene Volokh an email informing him that his blog, the Volokh Conspiracy, had been blocked in Nordstrom.

I’m at the Nordstom E-Bar coffee shop located at the Americana at Brand in Glendale, California. I am using the “Nordstom_Wi-Fi” public WIFI. I just tried to access the Volokh Conspiracy website. I got the message:

This website is blocked by your network operator.

It’s understandable, in a peculiar way, that Nordstrom would avoid controversy. They don’t need a mob attacking them for allowing offensive websites. No, if they just allowed unfettered access to the internet, it wouldn’t concern any rational person, but these aren’t rational people. They’re a mob and mobs have no mind. But Volokh?

Category: Hate and Racism

On the one hand, this might seem like a joke to anyone familiar with VC. On the other, it’s not a huge stretch to understand how the unduly passionate can find “hate and racism” anywhere and everywhere. As it turns out, Nordstrom may not know VC exists, but rather hired a vendor to keep internet controversy at bay.

UPDATE: The culprit was apparently the blacklist run by a company called Brightcloud; I asked them to review their categorization of our site, and within a few hours we were unblocked.

While that cleared up the immediate problem, it provides no answer as to the underlying problem. Who is this company, Brightcloud? Who makes them the arbiter of “hate and racism”? What basis is used to blacklist websites? How many other vendors, apps, “solutions,” are out there promising enterprises to eliminate controversy by eliminating websites from their network?

And, of course, the overarching question: are you good with the idea that some unknown entity is deciding what you may see, hear and think?

For the hard-of-thinking, this does not implicate any constitutional rights. All the players are private entities, entitled to do as they please.

Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, is feeling the pain of the unduly passionate. Is he a true believer in censorship, or has Jack made a business decision that it’s in twitter’s interests to cater to the whims of one crowd at the expense of others?

Are you the sort of person who annoys, frustrates, and offends lots of people on Twitter—but manages to avoid technically violating any of its policies on abuse or hate speech? Then Twitter’s newest feature is for you. Or, rather, it’s for everyone else but you.

Twitter is announcing on Tuesday that it will begin hiding tweets from certain accounts in conversations and search results. To see them, you’ll have to scroll to the bottom of the conversation and click “Show more replies,” or go into your search settings and choose “See everything.” Think of them as Twitter’s equivalent of the Yelp reviews that are “not currently recommended” or the Reddit comments that have a “comment score below threshold.”

The characterizations are facile, but this comes from Slate, a dear and loyal friend to the “oppressed.” If a mob of a certain orientation takes umbrage with a twitterer’s twits, they can dink him and Twitter will make him quasi-disappear. There will be a mechanism to allow others to re-appear the twits of a disapproved person, but how one knows that you exist if they can’t see you is one of those great mysteries of life.

But there’s one difference: When Twitter’s software decides that a certain user is “detract[ing] from the conversation,” all of that user’s tweets will be hidden from search results and public conversations until their reputation improves. And they won’t know that they’re being muted in this way; Twitter says it’s still working on ways to notify people and help them get back into its good graces. In the meantime, their tweets will still be visible to their followers as usual and will still be able to be retweeted by others. They just won’t show up in conversational threads or search results by default.

There is no one on social media who doesn’t come across people who are, to be generous, stupid and/or offensive. It ranges from banal idiocy to threats of rape and wishes of brutal death. Even the latter, which many would shrug and concede are so far beyond the pale that they wouldn’t be upset if they were “disappeared,” ends up becoming problematic when someone pointing out an outrageous twit by retwitting it ends up being the person shadowbanned for it.

Part of the problem is what is deemed offensive. Is it left to the sensibilities of, say, the priggish scolds of the medium? Who else would spend their days pushing the “report and block” button over and over to eradicate the heretics? Most of us have better things to do with our time than carry axes and smash whisky kegs to eradicate demon rum.

But another part of the problem is how the offensive will be ascertained, and that’s where companies like Brightcloud come into play. While Twitter and Facebook will likely keep the censorship in house, they will employ similar methods, algorithms scanning every twit for keywords that the euphemistically-named “Trust and Safety” teams have deemed offensive.

Eugene contacted Brightcloud and prevailed upon them to remove VC from its blacklist. Will that be the future, begging the overlords of propriety, one at a time, to allow your words to appear? Maybe they will grace you with special dispensation. Maybe they will ignore you. Maybe they will tell you that they have deemed you a troll and banished you from their internet.

Over the past decade, the internet morphed from the wild west, where users kept their own house clean, to reliance on their masters to fix their world so that only fellow insipid members of their own Cult of Positivity would be elevated to prominence. The meek may not yet be inheriting the Earth, but they are getting the internet they desire, having it rammed down their throats good and hard. And they like it, as they will never again have to see an unpleasant or disagreeable twit.

37 comments on “The Meek Shall Inherit Twitter

    1. SHG Post author

      I’ve learned over the years that SJ blocked from various places, including the District Attorneys’ offices for Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the United States Attorneys office for the Southern District of New York. I wore that as a badge of pride. Beyond that, I have no idea, but it would hardly come as a surprise that my posts were deemed too offensive to appear in safe spaces.

      1. REvers

        Prosecutors have to be shielded from things that will make them think, of course. You probably short-circuited some brain cells.

        1. SHG Post author

          In all fairness, I have said some mean things about prosecutors in the past. How are they supposed to confidently wield their power when they’re balled up in the corner crying?

          1. Raccoon Strait

            Send them a couple of pounds of raw bacon. Learning how to cook it will take their minds off of sad things. That should cheer them up. They might even unblock your blog, at least until you tell the truth again.

      2. Jim Tyre

        Beyond that, I have no idea, but it would hardly come as a surprise that my posts were deemed too offensive to appear in safe spaces.

        I’ve told you to stop posting that picture of Roxy.

      3. Dan T.

        Your site was blocked in the Barcelona Zoo when I tried to access it through the wifi there.

      4. Nick Lidakis

        They don’t block SJ from jurors at 100 Centre Street Criminal Court.

        Not guilty before lunch. And a unanimous, “keep your damn free sandwich.”

  1. Mike G.

    I prefer to call those people who take offense at every twit they don’t like and try to ban people for it…twidiots.

  2. Thomas

    Who would have thought that Nosedive (Black Mirror S03E01) was a guidance manual for the future. Now I just need to go arm my robotic dog.

      1. Thomas

        Yeah, had I started with Season 1, I’d have probably quit at the beginning but luckily I started with 3 and went backwards. Season 3 is where it really hits its stride and 4 isn’t too shabby either.

        1. SHG Post author

          I struggled with season 1. I ended up pushing through (though I never watched all of S1E2 because it was so awful), and it’s getting better, but I’ve yet to get hooked.

  3. B. McLeod

    This stuff is all star chamber, but it is private, so they can. Some deeply offended troll probably turned VC in, and that by itself was probably enough.

    1. SHG Post author

      There’s a deeply offended troll for everyone who expresses anything beyond “you’re awesome! Hugs.”

      1. Ray Lee

        I’m offended, deeply offended, when someone tweets “you’re awesome! Hugs” at someone who isn’t awesome or doesn’t deserve a hug.

      2. B. McLeod

        Indeed. As I realized at a site where I formerly posted, there are packs of these people who lope through the Internet perpetually, spraying every thought that differs from their approved Universal Scheme of Things. Sadly, many sites and services simply go forth and ban based on these complaints. Often they have “report abuse” links that affirmatively invite the complaints, and only the complainers (usually anonymous) are heard (i.e., the banned writers typically are not informed of the complaint or its source, but simply find they are blocked). These facets of the “abuse reporting” systems (as well as moderators not wanting to spend a lot of time evaluating the alleged offensiveness of the expressions complained about) empower small bands of fanatics to effectively censor much of the Internet universe.

    2. DaveL

      This stuff is all star chamber, but it is private

      When Tech CEOs are getting hauled in front of Congress, who all but threaten them with punitive regulation if they don’t censor content more to the latter’s taste, that distinction gets a tad too blurry for comfort.

      1. B. McLeod

        Maybe. But in all honesty, I don’t think any part of this stems from a desire to please Congress. It’s an abject striking of the colors for any mutt who claims to be offended (rationally, irrationally or otherwise).

  4. Erik H.

    fortunately we can all rest assured that mobs of trolls will never get into the practice of reporting everyone to get them blocked because after all these are Good Right Minded People.

    1. B. McLeod

      Well, sure. If two or more people are breathing in the same location, that is alone sufficient to justify a ban.

      1. Jay

        I hope they included this on purpose:

        ” thanks to commenter TwelveInchPianist for pointing me to this!”

  5. Jardinero1

    I find the current situation historically analogous to pre-code Hollywood. In the twenties, Hollywood did produce just about anything that might possibly sell. When, the then moralists, started asking Washington to regulate the offensive content in the industry, the studios responded with self-censorship, via the Hays code. Likewise we see much the same happening today.

  6. Sacho

    The Internet is still the Wild West. Twitter and Facebook are just the cozy settlements people have set up. – of course you need law and order and ‘safe spaces’ there. Every once in a while, a brave soul(i.e. Weiss) will venture into the frontier, exploring the “dark web”. Your blog is kind of like a border town – there’s a sheriff, but everyone pretty much does what they want, much to his exasperation.

Comments are closed.