Twitter, the Politburo
Nearly two years after promising to fix a central function of their platform, Twitter has settled on the Soviet model.
The true essence of a dictatorship is in fact not its regularity but its unpredictability and caprice; those who live under it must never be able to relax, must never be quite sure if they have followed the rules correctly or not.
— Christopher Hitchens, ‘Hitch-22’
Stop, You’re Under Arrest
On December 18th, 2020, I opened Twitter and saw the message “we’ve temporarily limited some of your account features.”
These notices always disappear with no explanation. A few weeks prior my account was suspended without notice and then the suspension lifted without explanation. Strange behavior I excuse as a mistake each time, with none ever having official explanation.
On December 18th, the message did not go away within an hour. Twitter accused me of violating the Twitter Rules.
This is quite an alarming charge. One I would not want to be guilty of. Luckily I am not guilty.
What I am is stuck in Twitter jail. They are trying to compel me to admit I violated a rule I did not violate. The system is designed to apply the maximum pressure at its disposal to make you pretend you were wrong.
What is happening to me can happen to anyone at any time with no recourse.
That is by design.
I am Dr RollerGator PhD
My account is an acquired taste. I’m an anthropomorphic cartoon alligator that wears a slick, leather jacket; ran for President of the United States; type with capslock on because I have no inside voice; use lots of shorthand because I have short hands.
I am not for everyone.
The Offending Tweet
This tweet will require a small amount of explanation to even understand. It will also obviously not violate the rule it is accused of violating, no matter what context you imagine.
While the capslock, usage of vulgarity, and spelling mistakes might not be everyone’s cup of tea — objectively the tweet only contains a description things other people did. It does not promote violence against, threaten, or harass a single soul, let alone any member of the listed categories, nor the whole categories themselves.
The only thing this tweet violates are the Verbal Morality Statues from the movie Demolition Man.
The tweet references two related events. To get the context out of the way, the tweet was made in a thread discussing criticism of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son. It was meant to contrast how harsh the treatment of President Trump’s children has been over the last four years.
The original comments about Hunter Biden were not harsh. If Twitter will allow you, as they are currently hiding majority of my tweets from view, the original tweet that started the thread is here.
The tweet accused of violating the rule is first referencing the comedian Samantha Bee, who is the host of the show Full Throttle on TBS. In an episode of her show she gave a monologue that involved her calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless c*nt.” You can read more about the episode and reaction here, if you do not remember it.
The clip of that can be found in many places on Twitter still today.
The original shares from many verified users with blue checkmarks are still available. The tweets from the surrounding days, gleefully repeating Samantha Bee’s sentiment, still available. The words I quoted can easily be found.
Which is what the last part of my tweet references, Sally Field. The tweet from Sally Field that it references is still available on Twitter.
My tweet however, is being accused of violating Twitter rules. I am completely locked out of my account, being pushed to admit I violated a rule I did not violate.
Time to Appeal
In the notice, that appeared when I opened Twitter, was the following:
In order to go into what we can call “Time Out,” which is their aforementioned set of restrictions, you have to “Remove Tweets that violate our rules.”
Given that my tweet does not violate their rules, by removing the tweet, I am agreeing that it does.
So I appealed the violation.
Not Guilty, Your Honor
Unfortunately I do not have have a screenshot, as I didn’t intend to write this article in advance. But the screen for appeal was mostly empty. There was a small blurb that just said to write your appeal, and a tiny text box with an extremely limited maximum set of characters with which to write your defense. Fewer characters than a full tweet.
Their tweet announcing this feature shows something similar if not the same as to what I saw.
After writing that I didn’t violate the rules, as I was quoting Samantha Bee and Sally Field, both still available on Twitter, I hit send.
Held Without Bail
After submitting the appeal, I was told that while my appeal was pending, I was not even allowed the “Time Out" rule limitations. I was now prohibited from entering Twitter. I cannot read tweets. I cannot send DMs. I cannot read DMs.
This was the message I received:
The final part of the notice is key.
“You can wait an unknown amount of time. It’s really just up to you. You’re allowed to say we got it wrong, but that will take time to evaluate. We can’t risk you having access to any part of our service in the mean time. This is clearly a big deal. But it’s not really that big of a deal to you, is it? It’s just Twitter. Why get so worked up over a tweet? Look. We’re busy. You’re busy. Let’s just save both of ourselves time and err on the side of us being right and you being wrong. Cancel your appeal and you can delete your tweet and sit in time out and move on with your life.”
Going to My Cell
I think it is prudent to point out that this is all occurring during a pandemic. That society at large is putting pressure on people to stay in their homes as a strategy to fight the Coronavirus. A significant portion of the United States is completely reliant on social media for a sliver of an approximation of human interaction. Not to mention access to information.
Being deprived of these networks in this environment becomes very similar to being in a real prison. Many on house arrest, a literal form of punishment for committing crimes, are not deprived of access to internet services.
But I appealed, and am willing to let the process work.
Inside My Cell
Any time I open Twitter the only thing I am shown is the image from before. A message saying I can just delete the tweet.
“Look at your tweet. Come on, is that really something you need to preserve? How weird are you? Was that your magnum opus? Will that cure cancer? Or even help a single person? It’s not that important. And look, every time you see that tweet you see the word “c*nt” and really, is that language good citizens use? No. Maybe you’re right and it doesn’t violate our rules, but it is vulgar, and you’d prefer a world that was less vulgar, right? It’s been a while. Cancel your appeal and you can delete your tweet and sit in time out and move on with your life.”
Now, I could just shut the App and forget about it. Check once a day. Find other things to do. But of course, Twitter didn’t program their software to block me from everything. No, I still get every notification. Every message in every group or individual chat I was a part of partially popping up on display.
“Gator, what happened where…”
“Hey Gator do you have a min…”
“OMG I can’t believe this is …”
Each one a nudge, telling me what I’m missing. And of course, all the notification bells of accounts I follow where I wanted to know when they’ve tweeted. I still get all of those.
Oh! And I also either just started to get, or just started noticing, notifications from Twitter such as:
“This person follows you, consider following them back!”
“This person just posted something to Instagram!”
Twitter’s attempts to remind me I’m locked out of Twitter are so plentiful they include activity of things outside of Twitter.
All I have to do is just delete the silly tweet and I can go back into society.
Update on Appeal
At some point the next day, on December 19th, I got an update on my appeal. The update was ‘we’re right, you’re wrong.’ The screen I currently see is now this:
I followed Twitter’s rules. They accused me of violating them. I followed Twitter’s rules again to appeal their accusation of having violated their rules. They rejected my appeal with no explanation, telling me I can submit an appeal.
There are nuances to this new message. It is no longer discussing the “Time Out,” period. But it is also specifying something about the content having a notice it violated the rules for 14 days. What happens after those 14 days? Perhaps I am supposed to feel embarrassed thinking about others seeing a message I violated Twitter Rules. Or maybe I’m supposed to think my account is gone after 14 days.
This is a new stage of their process. They never gave me an explanation about why my appeal was not accepted. This entire screen is made for this new part of the process.
The update I received in email stated:
“We have decided we did not make a mistake.” Given that they clearly did make a mistake, they should have not decided this.
The on-screen instructions tell me I can appeal a second time. In case they made a mistake in thinking they didn’t make a mistake.
And around and around we go.
Just Delete the Tweet
That is what the system is pressuring me to do. Every step of the way they are encouraging me to just delete the tweet. But review the notices: by doing so I agree I violated the Twitter Rules. I did not violate the Twitter Rules. The moment I agree to this a create a history of violating the Twitter Rules. The original violation allegation email states:
If I delete the tweet a lie becomes a truth. It will become true that I violated the rules and at some point in the future that history could be used to arbitrarily determine my account should be suspended. While they could always arbitrarily do so, and perhaps I have no recourse, under this circumstance it will be factual that I had a history of violating the Twitter Rules, and I could not argue I did not. As I agreed that I did when I deleted the tweet. I am helping them build a case against me.
Every account is under the same threat.
Joe Rogan, Jack Dorsey, and Tim Pool
On March 5th, 2019, Jack Dorsey, the C.E.O. of Twitter along with Vijaya Gadde the Head of Legal, Policy and Trust at Twitter, discussed many of these related topics for over three hours.
Vijaya stated that it was a “big thing” to kick someone off the platform, and that she takes it very seriously. She said she wants to make sure that when someone violates the Twitter rules she wants them to understand exactly what they did wrong, and give them an opportunity to learn from their mistake.
[00:19:11 through 00:20:07]
Vijaya also says that they normally do not kick someone off the platform for one violation. Which is nice, but my tweet did not violate a rule.
She also said it was similar to three strikes, like in baseball. This is not a strike.
She admitted that they designed the system to compel you to delete the tweet and acknowledge you violated the rules.
Pattern and Practice
Vijaya a bit later, giving pushback to Tim Pool, emphasizes that suspensions are often going to be about “pattern and practice” of violating the rules.
By design, and in Vijaya’s own words, the system tries to force you to accept you violated the rules. The system is designed to force you to delete the tweet. And the system is designed to look at a “pattern and practice” of rule violation.
They have built a system primed to give them maximum arbitrary jurisdiction, while maintaining the ability to claim they’re being fair and methodical.
Two years ago they had a Soviet model of justice, and in the nearly two years after promising to focus on improving the system, have arrived at the same system.
As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in the Gulag Archipelago
In his Dictionary of Definitions Dal makes the following distinction: "An inquiry is distinguished from an investigation by the fact that it is carried out to determine whether there is a basis for proceeding to an investigation."
Oh, sacred simplicity! The Organs have never heard of such a thing as an inquiry! Lists of names prepared up above, or an initial suspicion, or a denunciation by an informer, or any anonymous denunciation, were all that was needed to bring about the arrest of the suspect, followed by the inevitable formal charge. The time allotted for investigation was not used to unravel the crime but, in ninety-five cases out of a hundred, to exhaust, wear down, weaken, and render helpless the defendant, so that he would want it to end at any cost.
Legal, Policy and “Trust“
When your head of Legal, Policy and Trust spends the better part of two years creating a system of zero transparency, mirroring the Soviet model of justice by simply wearing down the accused until they admit guilt, trust is broken.
Unless and until this process is fixed everyone stands to be falsely accused. Everyone is susceptible. Everyone stands to have Twitter attempt to force them, by Twitter’s own words, to admit you violated the rules. And everyone will help Twitter build a case against themselves for future removal for having an established “pattern and practice” of violating the rules.
What do I Want?
Obviously I would prefer to be back in my account. I would also prefer to not have been compelled to lie, saying I violated a rule I did not violate.
At this moment in time the only truly satisfactory resolution is for them to admit they made a mistake, and explain how they made this mistake twice in a row. Both times were described as them having “determined” I violated the rules. But there are so many questions that remain.
Why is there no portal where someone can look at the strikes on their account? To know if perhaps they’re building a case against themselves?
Why is there no portal for someone to see how many tweets of theirs have been flagged, so that they may know if they’re under some sort of cancellation campaign?
If this system is designed to give them maximum arbitrary ability to suspend accounts on a whim, what about the process that brought us here? To what degree is the system playing favorites, finding reasons to ignore violations from accounts they like more and accusing accounts they like less. You’re asked to trust them. But trust is currently broken.
There are so many other missing components, not to mention a “path to redemption” that Jack admitted was horribly lacking on the platform post-suspension, that one starts to conclude this is exactly the system they want.