Twitter has blundered into yet another moderation crisis after
it temporarily suspended the account of actress Rose McGowan as she was
using its platform to speak out against sexual harassment of
women in the wake of sexual abuse allegations now coming out
against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

It appears that Twitter’s anti-abuse algorithms
might have triggered the suspension, though the company
declined to comment, telling us: “We don’t comment on
individual accounts for privacy and security reasons.”

The suspension was reported earlier by Variety after McGowan posted to her
Instagram account, saying: “TWITTER HAS SUSPENDED ME. THERE ARE
POWERFUL FORCES AT WORK. BE MY VOICE. #ROSEARMY.”

Her Twitter account has since been reinstated but the sight of
a victim of sexual violence against women being silenced (even
temporarily) at the very point that she was denouncing sexual
violence against women is, to say the least, not a good look
for Twitter.

Especially given extant criticism from many, many female users
who face sexualized (and other forms) of abuse on its platform
— yet when they report threats of rape, for instance, they
frequently report being told by Twitter that this type of
speech does not violate its community standards.

And that despite Twitter’s own rules claiming to censure
“Violent threats (direct or indirect)” and also stating: “You
may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of
others.”

McGowan herself settled with Weinstein in 1997, and has
apparently been limited in what she can say publicly about what
happened to her as a result of that prior legal agreement. But
at the time of her Twitter suspension she was tweeting in
support of the women coming out with their own stories of
sexual abuse now.

As well as calling out people she perceived to have been
supportive of Weinstein and/or complicit in a culture of
silence regarding male power in Hollywood — and thus implicated
in helping enable a cover-up.

Thus Twitter silencing her voice really couldn’t have come at a
worse moment…

It’s possible that McGowan’s use of a swear word directed at a
verified Twitter user, actor Ben Affleck, is what triggered
Twitter’s anti-abuse algorithms — and led to the suspension of
her account. But there’s no way to be sure given that Twitter
isn’t commenting.

In other instances women who have received targeted harassment
on Twitter have reported their accounts being suspended after
their abusers co-ordinated to file multiple reports against
them (a well documented tactic utilizing other platforms such
as 4Chan to organize pile-ons) — whereas their
one-report-per-abusive-tweet apparently fails to get the
attention of Twitter’s algorithms.

That kind of fatal asymmetry is something Twitter has been
warned about for years.

Yet somehow the company continues to be incapable of fixing its
abuse problem — talking instead about how it offers tools for people to manage their
exposure to content on the platform.

A response which merely highlights how flawed the Twitter
leadership’s perspective on this issue is.

“It’s generally true that anti-troll tools are used by trolls
against their victims,” agrees law academic Paul Bernal, who
has tweeted a series of thoughts on the McGowan suspension.

“We rely on algorithms to our peril,” he adds.

There’s also the unfortunate contrast between Twitter giving
U.S. president Donald Trump the thumbs up to tweet-threaten
nuclear apocalypse because it’s “newsworthy” vs a victim of sexual abuse, the
name of whose abuser is now all over the news on account of new
allegations of abuse against him, being silenced because —
well, why??

Twitter has clearly not fixed the problem of abuse on its
platform — and very clearly also continues to
fail
to fix the problem of abuse on its platform.

Leaning on algorithms to do this vital work appears to be a
large part of this failure.

But not listening to the users who are being abused is a even
greater — and more telling — lapse of leadership.

Combine those two — blind faith in algorithms and a blinkered
executive perspective — and, well, you have a toxic trashfire.

Slow handclap for @Jack.


Featured Image: DragojaGagiTubic / iStock Editorial /
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