“We made a mistake,” the Twitter Safety account announced Friday night. Twitter Safety was responding to the news that the accused mail bomber had been previously been reported to Twitter for making a threat, and Twitter had told the person who made the report that “there was no violation of the Twitter Rules against abusive behavior.”
Now Twitter Safety had a different message: “The Tweet clearly violated our rules and should have been removed. We are deeply sorry for that error.”
If the original tweet (which threatened a “nice silent Air boat ride 4 u” and concluded “We will see you 4 sure.Hug your loved ones real close every time you leave you home”) clearly violated Twitter’s rules, how did Twitter originally decide it didn’t? The answer is the difference between what Twitter Safety says about the user experience in public and what it says to users in private: Publicly, the company sometimes has to act like it cares; privately, it doesn’t care.
The difference between playing dumb and being dumb is mooted by Twitter’s business model. Like Facebook and YouTube, it has chosen to broadcast content on a global scale without even to trying scale up a matching system to control for quality or protect its users. It is a giant water balloon hooked up to a high-pressure pipe of sewage, and all the company cares about is the balloon’s ever-swelling circumference.
Two things about the future bomber’s tweet were immediately clear and familiar to everyone who has ever roused the orcs on Twitter. It was obviously a threat, and it was obviously not something Twitter would have ever done anything about. “Context matters,” Twitter’s email script says.
The “Context matters” message is what I got after a person who got mad about a piece I’d written searched for my address and tweeted at me the name of the street and a description of the building they’d found. Twitter found no violation there, and I knew they wouldn’t. The person hadn’t publicly doxxed the actual building number in the tweet, after all; they were just letting me know they knew it. They understood the Twitter Rules, and what the Twitter Rules are there to protect.
Pretty much every reporter I’ve ever worked with has a much worse example than that. Even outright doxxing of phone numbers fails to convince the moderators.
Making it worse, the Twitter reporting forms are designed, purposely or not, as a dark pattern to defeat any effort to report the context of abuse or harassment: “private information,” “targeted harassment,” “hate against a protected category,” and threats of “violence or physical harm” are all mutually exclusive button selections. A tweet with a half-dose of private information and a half-dose of threat, or a tweet that is one part of a group of people targeting someone, gets fed into the system as a single complaint in a single category. The default selections at each level—”I’m not interested in this Tweet,” then “It’s disrespectful or offensive”—are there to bounce the user out of the reporting system, with guidance about how to use muting and blocking to protect your own delicate sensibilities from being offended by what Twitter throws your way.
“We are investigating what happened and will continue to work to improve how we handle concerns raised by anyone on Twitter,” Twitter Safety wrote in a follow-up tweet. Tip for the investigators: what happened was Twitter.
Seeing the falseness of the Twitter Safety response was perversely liberating. In place of some overworked moderator-drone hitting a button to send you an email telling you the problem wasn’t real, here was the voice of the company announcing to the whole world that it couldn’t or wouldn’t comprehend the reality of the problem. The hand on the gaslight valve twitched, and suddenly the whole setup was starkly illuminated.
This is the truth: Twitter has been operating as a game played by Nazis and other fascist creeps against the public. Report them all. It’s not your job to guess how far down the road each one might be toward the next bombing or shooting. That account telling you that no, George Soros is the one who was a Nazi? Or yelling about who’s funding the caravan? There’s no button (by design) to report tweets for being hoaxes or lies, but you know what the point of the hoaxes and lies is. It’s past time to stop pretending not to know.