Politics
Twitter’s suspension of Rose McGowan epitomizes the site’s most infuriating problem

By Aja Romano

It’s a double standard at its most divisive.

Early Thursday, Twitter temporarily suspended the account of actor Rose McGowan, who has become a major figure in the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal. The resulting backlash from Twitter users was immediate and intense, and illustrates just how contentious Twitter, the corporation, has become for its inconsistency in protecting its users from abuse.

McGowan made an Instagram post early Thursday morning showing what appears to be notification of a temporary 12-hour suspension of her Twitter account for unspecified violations of Twitter’s rules.

“There are powerful forces at work,” she wrote. “Be my army.”

TWITTER HAS SUSPENDED ME. THERE ARE POWERFUL FORCES AT WORK. BE MY VOICE. #ROSEARMY

A post shared by Rose McGowan (@rosemcgowan) on

In a widely released press statement issued around noon EST, Twitter clarified that it had suspended McGowan over a personal phone number she had included in a tweet of a screencapped email:

We have been in touch with Ms. McGowan’s team. We want to explain that her account was temporarily locked because one of her Tweets included a private phone number, which violates of our Terms of Service. The Tweet was removed and her account has been unlocked. We will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.

Twitter is proud to empower and support the voices on our platform, especially those that speak truth to power. We stand with the brave women and men who use Twitter to share their stories, and will work hard every day to improve our processes to protect those voices.

However, by that point many Twitter users had spent half a day being confused and upset on McGowan’s behalf. The suspension followed an intense week for the actress, who has repeatedly used the platform to speak indirectly about her alleged sexual assault at the hands of Weinstein. The recent New York Times report of Weinstein’s alleged decades of sexual assault of women in the entertainment industry identified McGowan as the recipient of a settlement from Weinstein in 1997. Since the report broke last week, McGowan has been very active on Twitter, vehemently declaring that many people in the entertainment industry were aware of Weinstein’s actions yet stayed silent.

Hey @mattdamon what’s it like to be a spineless profiteer who stays silent? pic.twitter.com/rp0OrRrpqJ

— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) October 9, 2017

@benaffleck “GODDAMNIT! I TOLD HIM TO STOP DOING THAT” you said that to my face. The press conf I was made to go to after assault. You lie.

— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) October 10, 2017

Bob Weinstein is a POS. They allllll knew. pic.twitter.com/zWJZf52ywq

— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) October 11, 2017

Due to her efforts, McGowan has been praised as a leader in the fight to empower victims of sexual assault.

Because the offending tweet that included the phone number had been deleted, it wasn’t initially clear from McGowan’s Instagram post or a perusal of her Twitter feed which of Twitter’s rules she had violated. McGowan didn’t appear to have threatened anyone, and she wasn’t sharing graphic content or engaging in hate speech or violent speech.

The industry veterans McGowan had been discussing in her tweets, however, are all powerful public figures in Hollywood. This fact, along with the lack of initial clarity about why she was suspended, led to rampant speculation that she was being silenced for being too aggressive about calling out the many men who allegedly stood by while Weinstein continued his pattern of assaults on women for years.

The result was a sense of deep outrage and confusion among Twitter users Thursday morning.

Hey @Twitter let us know which of these rules @rosemcgowan broke. Asking for multiple victims of sexual violence. https://t.co/eiZjQeMAVg

— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) October 12, 2017

.@rosemcgowan‘s Twitter was suspended.

Women should not be punished for speaking the truth.#ROSEARMYhttps://t.co/KQfi4Sg7ts

— Women’s March (@womensmarch) October 12, 2017

ICYMI, the game is rigged, and seeing @rosemcgowan getting suspended from Twitter, you don’t have to ask for whom the game is rigged –> https://t.co/cOU84oTdVi

— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) October 12, 2017

Even after Twitter’s official reason became known, the user base wasn’t having it.

[goodfellas laughing.jpg] https://t.co/WZloEKVNGs

— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) October 12, 2017

Some alt-right dickbag tweeted my phone number last winter, and when I reported it Twitter denied it was a violation of terms of service https://t.co/Imb5XmJpnC

— Natalie Shure (@nataliesurely) October 12, 2017

I don’t care if McGowan tweeted a phone number or not. Twitter’s rules seem uneven. Russian bots and Nazis are okay, but not a brave voice?

— Robert Caruso (@robertcaruso) October 12, 2017

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it now: if a superior alternative to Twitter appeared tomorrow, I’d be gone from here in a heartbeat.

— Matt Zoller Seitz (@mattzollerseitz) October 12, 2017

Although Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey chimed in with a note that the site needed to be more transparent, a lack of transparency isn’t the root of the real problem of McGowan’s suspension.

Taken together, the backlash over McGowan’s suspension and the skepticism toward Twitter’s subsequent statement illustrate the inconsistency in how Twitter applies its own rules across the growing ideological divide on its platform — and how deep the rift between the company and its user base has grown as a result.

Twitter’s inconsistency regarding what it deems bannable has caused perpetual frustration among its user base

The suspension of McGowan’s account neatly illustrates what has become a pattern in terms of how Twitter deals with harassment and abuse on its site. That is, while victims of abuse and marginalized users who deal with harassment are frequently censured over strict readings of Twitter’s abuse and safety rules, like McGowan, users who are widely seen as perpetuating real ideological violations of those rules are rarely censored.

Twitter has a long, inconsistent track record …read more

Read more here: Twitter’s suspension of Rose McGowan epitomizes the site’s most infuriating problem

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