On the heels of its very, very late foray into anti-harassment measures, Twitter has now suspended the accounts of several high profile alt-right figureheads, including Richard Spencer, Paul Town, Pax Dickinson, Ricky Vaughn, and John Rivers.
All five men, identified by USA Today, are involved in some capacity with the alt-right movement, which was at one time a fringe conservative contingent but has since become more visible with the election of Donald Trump. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes alt-righters as people who “embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.”
Richard Spencer, who up until recently tweeted under the handle @RichardBSpencer, is the president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank. He also runs Washington Summit Publishers, “an independent bookmaker dedicated to the exploration of human biodiversity, culture, and critical theory.” Twitter accounts for both organizations were also suspended. In a recent interview, Ricky Vaughn proclaimed that “white people in particular are being targeted because we hold within ourselves the light of civilization, beauty, truth, justice, et cetera.”
Heidi Beirich, a spokeswoman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told USA Today that the organization had requested the removal of over 100 white supremacist Twitter accounts, but “[Twitter has] done nothing.”
In its terms of service, Twitter says it doesn’t permit hateful conduct:
You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.
Spencer posted a video on YouTube decrying his suspension, and it’s about as level-headed as you might expect.
“I am alive, physically, but digitally speaking, there has been execution squads across the alt right. It’s something like the Night of the Long Knives [Adolf Hitler’s 1934 killing of several Nazi leaders].”
“It is corporate Stalinism,” he continued. “There is a great purge going on. They are purging people on the basis of their views.”
On Facebook, Pax Dickinson, a former friend of ours, also railed against his suspension.
In July, Twitter permanently banned Milo Yiannopoulos, the alt-right’s most prominent face, for promoting racist harassment against Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones. These kinds of mass suspensions, however, are uncommon.
Then again, just last night, we reported that Twitter had apparently allowed a white supremacist organization to promote itself on the platform. These accounts may be gone for the time being, but Twitter has a ways to go before it can say it’s conquered its harassment and hate speech problems.
Update 10:50 am: In an email, a Twitter spokesperson sent over the following statement and pointed to the company’s policy on hateful conduct. The spokesperson didn’t immediately respond when asked if there were specific tweets or incidents that led to the suspensions.
“The Twitter rules prohibit violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct, and multiple account abuse, and we will take action on accounts violating those policies.”