Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout had his twitter account hacked. When he informed twitter, their response was so very, very twitter.
UPDATE: I received this message from Twitter Support late last night:
We’ve investigated the reported account and have determined that it is not in violation of Twitter’s impersonation policy. In order for an account to be in violation…it must portray another person…in a misleading or deceptive manner.
So that’s how Twitter Support responds when my verified account is hacked, obscene and racist messages are posted on it, and a ransom request is made to me by telephone. Is it any wonder that more and more people are getting fed up with Twitter?
As with so many entities in the digital age, there’s no one to speak with, to talk to, to reason with. In fairness, twitter users aren’t the customers, but the product, so there’s no particular reason why they should either care or put in the effort or money to create a “customer” service system for users. You don’t like how they treat you? Go elsewhere. Seeya.
So Teachout’s account was hacked, and there were a handful of fairly straightforwards ways to address it. Take back the account from the hacker, change the password, delete the offending “obscene and racist” twits and life goes on. Or delete the old account altogether, maybe even put a notice on it that there’s a new legit account for Teachout. But nope. According to twitter’s response, there was no terms of service violation, so too bad, so sad, but there’s nothing to be done.
Yet, twitter isn’t entirely unresponsive to problems.
In September, Twitter announced changes to its “hateful conduct” policy, violations of which can get users temporarily or permanently barred from the site. The updates, an entry on Twitter’s blog explained, would expand its existing rules “to include content that dehumanizes others based on their membership in an identifiable group, even when the material does not include a direct target.” A little more than a month later, the company quietly rolled out the update, expanding the conduct page from 374 to 1,226 words, which went largely unnoticed until this past week.
To recap, twitter can’t manage to accommodate a hacked account, but wants to police “hateful conduct.” Hey, it’s a private corporation and can say and do whatever it pleases. Of course, we all have our own views on what constitutes “hate,” which the unduly passionate keep explaining on twitter isn’t protected by the First Amendment. But the First Amendment doesn’t apply to twitter anyway, so even if it did they could ignore it.
But this “hateful conduct” has gone off in a curious direction.
While much of the basic framework stayed the same, the latest version leaves much less up for interpretation. Its ban on “repeated and/or non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes, or other content that degrades someone” was expanded to read: “We prohibit targeting individuals with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category. This includes targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.” (Emphasis added.)
For the unwoke, “deadnaming” means using the original given name for a trans individual rather than their chosen name. If Bruce is now Caitlyn, then you would be violating the rules against hateful conduct by calling “her” Bruce rather than Caitlyn. While most people would chalk up using a preferred name as a matter of courtesy, since what do you care what someone wants to call herself, it could present some issues that aren’t necessarily related to hatefulness.
First, what if Caitlyn wants to discuss her journey? Will whoever, or whatever, is imposing the rules banish first and respond as mindlessly as he, or it, did to Terry Teachout? Second, does this mean there can be no discussion on twitter of any issues concerning trans folks, or at least not without significant risk of banishment should someone inadvertently use the wrong word?
When raising these questions, the facile response from the unduly passionate is that such institutionalized political correctness is merely a matter of common courtesy. Of course, it’s their flavor of courtesy, whether you agree or not. But even that isn’t true. Courtesy is something polite people choose to do, not something that’s done to avoid punishment.
But twitter, as a private entity, is entitled to pick its politics and enforce them as it pleases. Since we don’t pay for the pleasure of participating, there’s not even financial harm to be suffered should they manage their rules poorly. Fail to address a problem? So what? Impose punishment? So what? You can handcuff yourself to twitter’s front door, but that hasn’t proven effective.
When twitter first erupted on the scene, I wrote that I would not use it. That was ten years ago. Time proved me a liar. It was a different beast in the early days than it is now. There are flashes of brilliant and extraordinary wit, but it’s mostly insipid children demonstrating what insipid children used to conceal. There are gifs and emojis, the millennial substitutes for words and thought. There is witless snark. There is anger and hatred, but not of the sort that would offend the twitter gods. But they still can’t figure out that there’s a problem when someone hacks and steals a twitter account and fix a concrete problem.
Social media has become the “village square” of the digital age. but it remains in private hands and we, the users, may be the speakers atop the soapboxes but corporations are selling tickets to watch us, to sell to us. You can steal someone else’s soapbox, and it won’t bother the twitters as long as you don’t misgender them in the process. It may be time for this oldster to wind down on twitter. I could handle a bit of dumb, but I don’t really want to enable dumber.