I Was Banned From Twitter Because of Stupidity–Other People’s!

Twitter’s robots don’t pick up on context, satire, or tone


I rejoiced when Donald Trump was finally banned from Twitter for posting a treacherous series of falsehoods claiming that the November ’20 election had been stolen from his sweaty hands. Two days after the horror of January 6, Twitter cited “the risk of further incitement of violence” in its removal of history’s biggest sore loser from the guest list. I was thrilled that a private company had decided to block some dangerous lies—no, this was not the same thing as a baker selectively reading the Bible to enforce bigotry—and without Trump’s toxic presence, I began enjoying Twitter far more than before. It was a place for politically minded people (including celebrities) to share news and ideas, and I got to be “liked” by Billy Eichner and Ben Stiller, retweeted by Soledad O’Brien, and inspired by Maxine Waters, AOC, and George Takei. But in August, I got banned myself, and I suddenly wasn’t so joyful.

It was bad enough when I was handed a temporary stay last November. Twitter blocked me for 10 days because, on a thread about Megyn Kelly, I commented, “We’re supposed to respect someone who went soft on Trump just so he wouldn’t call her a bimbo anymore.” I wasn’t calling Kelly a bimbo, I was simply relaying Trump’s abuse (which he did via retweets) and noting her eventual reaction to it, as portrayed in the movie Bombshell. Alas, certain words set the Twitter algorithms ringing, and I was busted for “hateful conduct,” as if I were the one who’d called her a name. How could the original “bimbo” tweets that Trump then retweeted have been OK—along with Trump himself—but not my take on the topic? I addressed this when I appealed the decision, but Twitter wasn’t responding, so I canceled the appeal in order to eventually get back in rather than reside in permanent limbo. Similarly, Facebook had temp-blocked me when I posted a deadpan satire of Trumpian attitudes toward Mexicans by simply repeating his odious views. They interestingly labeled my post “hate speech”! So the hate speech itself (which was all over Facebook) was acceptable, but not my spoof of it?

But this time, my Twitter ejection was for keeps. My new crime against humanity (or algorithms posing as humanity)? Well, on August 23, the repellent South Dakota governor Kristi Noem tweeted, “If Joe Biden illegally mandates vaccines, I will take every action available under the law to protect South Dakotans from the federal government.” So her idea of protecting her constituents is to make sure they don’t have to get the vaccine? Welcome to Noem-madland. I put in my comment: “Come to South Dakota and die of covid!” And quicker than COVID numbers rise after a South Dakota biker rally, I received an email bidding me adieu.

But I obviously wasn’t really urging people to die of COVID; I was commenting on Noem’s risky politicizing of safety measures. I was saying, satirically, what she seemed to be saying with her defiant policies. I thought my intention would be obvious, but Twitter doesn’t pick up on context, satire, or tone. You need to add lots of asterisks, quote marks, and “LOLs” to make things clear to the robots that police these networks. 

The farewell email I got said I was suspended for “violating our rules against abuse and harassment. You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. This includes wishing or hoping that someone experiences physical harm.” But I thought Noem came off like someone wishing harm, and I was just commenting on that. (By the way, the enchanting Noem more recently landed in hot water regarding nepotism, and, of all people, she’s being investigated by the state’s attorney general, Jason Ravnsborg. Last year, Ravnsborg was at the wheel when his vehicle struck and killed a man he later claimed he thought was a deer. It’s quite a confederacy of deplorables over there—or perhaps I should say “d*plor*bles, lol”!).

Once again, I appealed my suspension, explaining that my remark was a satire on Noem’s refusal to accede to emergency safety measures. I also vowed to be clearer and more sensitive about my intent in the future. But they rejected me once more and said that I’m utterly banned—and if I start another account, they will purge that too. I started feeling like an unused vaccine sitting in a refrigerator in South Dakota.

And it all seems pretty random, if you ask me. Crackpot lawyer Lin Wood wasn’t permanently banned when he tweeted on January 6: “The time has come Patriots.… Time to take back our country.… Pledge your lives, your fortunes & your sacred honor.… TODAY IS OUR DAY,” with the words “1776 Again” looming ominously underneath. Twitter found that to be an incitement to violence—duh—but suspended the guy for only 12 hours! What? My “bimbo” remark had gotten literally 20 times more punishment than a baseless call for revolution? It wasn’t until Wood announced on Parler that he planned to post on a new Twitter account, @FightBackLaw, that he was shut out for good. Angling to sneak back in, as they’d warned me, is a no-no—apparently even worse than urging people to sneak into the Capitol.

Meanwhile, the eternally desperate for headlines Marjorie Taylor Greene only gets slapped on her gun-toting wrists. In August, the bottomless Georgia congresswoman received her third Twitter punishment—a one-week ban—for lying that vaccines are ineffective and insisting that they shouldn’t be FDA-approved. Twitter bravely considered that to be “misleading information,” but a week later welcomed her back to continue the bull. A recent Greene tweet, chosen at random: “The Democrats are launching a communist takeover of our country.…” Blah blah blah.

The loose cannon known as Nicki Minaj is obviously safe as well. In September, the rapper-singer claimed that she was locked out of tweeting after she posted that a cousin’s friend’s testicles had supposedly swelled like balloons due to the vaccine. Twitter, however, denied that they had tampered with her account. Minaj could still post, but for some time she refused to do so because, she insisted bizarrely, she was in “Twitter jail,” even though she wasn’t. Part of me has to applaud the woman; rejecting Twitter for no good reason is a taste of its own medicine.

But she’s OK, and I’m the one who’s banned—for good? That’s ridiculous—and quite possibly part of an effort to throw out some liberals too, so haywire hucksters like Trump and Wood aren’t alone in the dark. Fortunately, I’m still on Facebook and Instagram, though those sites’ October 4 blackouts conspicuously happened the day after whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed how Facebook encourages hate for ratings while pretending to be ethical on the subject. That blackout … distraction much? And I’ll never forget how Facebook turned a blind eye to the outrageous threats of savagery percolating there in August 2020. A Kenosha, Wisconsin, militia group was openly discussing their plan to stir up violence against protesters, as well as looters, after the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake. Despite being alerted to this situation by horrified readers, Facebook ignored the warnings, only taking down the page and bragging about doing so after a vigilante killed two protesters and wounded a third. Again: Violent hate speech is OK, but mocking that hate speech is punishable? Maybe I’ll stick to email.

There are so many levels of underthinking to unpack here. Noem routinely brags about her refusal to impose safety mandates, thereby pandering to the “civil rights” crowd that votes against real civil rights at every turn. The Twitter decision to ban me was also wack, acting as if ridiculing stupidity is as “abusive” as the stupidity itself. Maybe Twitter is so protective of idiocy because the platform can claim a large role in having fostered the rise of it in America, though they’d have to share credit with Fox News, QAnon, and Trumpism.

The root of this phenomenon is that a misplaced sense of powerlessness (despite all their privileges) leads certain Americans to fantasize that they’re smarter than everyone else if they can just parrot the story of “what really happened” in a current event, as told to them by someone—anyone—on a link or a video. These are the same folks who abandoned Fox News when the network reported something truthful for a change—that Biden had won Arizona—opting for even more radical outlets (Newsmax, OAN) that out-fox even Fox, facts-wise.

From saying that parents of mass shooting victims are really “crisis actors” to claims that Dominion voting machines changed half of each ballot and beyond, I’ve become convinced that if a prominent Republican argued that the moon is made of buttermilk pancakes, there would be millions of MAGAs trying to get there with syrup bottles. After all, just this month, Lin Wood claimed at a rally that planes didn’t really hit the Towers or the Pentagon on 9/11, that the images of that day were all created via CGI and Photoshop. But if that’s the case, one wonders why the buildings simply aren’t there anymore. Oh, right, well, Wood suggested that the Pentagon was hit by a missile (he’s less clear on what burned the Towers down, just that there were no planes) as part of an inside job to recover stolen Defense Department money. Got it! And I guess when the whole world thought they were watching the second plane fly into the South Tower on live TV, it was actually pre-edited footage? Spare me. Fortunately, he didn’t get to say any of this on Twitter, where he’s dead Wood. But it would still be nice if social networks could differentiate between these looney fabrications and the pained cries of people like me who call them out. Some consistency in their decision-making would also be nice. One can dream, even if one can’t tweet.    ❖

From the Voice October 2021 print edition.

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