I was glad to see the news that Twitter is upping its game in cracking down on the kinds of abusive and threatening behavior that most of use have witnessed for a long time. I am glad for this in its own right, but also because as a society, including the online community generally, we have got to get a grip on how we deal with these things.
The Associated Press reported:
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Twitter has revised its rules of conduct to emphasize that it prohibits violent threats and abusive behavior by users, promising a tough stance at a time when critics are calling for the online service to adopt a harder line against extremists.
While the new policy unveiled Tuesday doesn't substantively change what's allowed, it may help Twitter answer criticism from politicians and others who say militant extremists are using the service and other social networks to recruit members and promote their violent agendas.
In a blog post, the company said: "The updated language emphasizes that Twitter will not tolerate behavior intended to harass, intimidate, or use fear to silence another user's voice. As always, we embrace and encourage diverse opinions and beliefs — but we will continue to take action on accounts that cross the line into abuse."
The new policy says Twitter will suspend or shutter any user account that engages in "hateful conduct" or whose "primary purpose is inciting harm towards others." The company previously said users could not promote or threaten violence and in April added a ban on "promotion of terrorism."
Under "hateful conduct," the new policy warns users: "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."
The new policy also explicitly bans "creating multiple accounts with overlapping uses" aimed at evading suspension of a single account. Critics say Twitter has previously made it too easy for extremists to create new accounts as soon as older ones are shut down.
One of the catalysts for the new policy may have been an episode last February when a White Nationalist in Kalispell, Montana threatened to massacre school children, assassinate a rabbi, and go out in a hail of police bullets.
Fortunately, our fellow kossack Jonathan Hutson thwarted the drama before it began. An anonymous tweeter had engaged Hutson on Twitter, but it did not take Hutson long to see that the volatile figure, who went by the moniker of (several variations of) PsychicDogTalk, had a long record of anti-Jewish conspiracism and threatening tweets. As Paul Rosenberg reported at Salon.com:
Here’s a sample of Lenio’s tweets from just a one-hour period two days before their first encounter, drawn from list Hutson sent to law enforcement:
2:52 a.m. – 12 Feb. “I want to shoot up a school”
2:55 a.m. – 12 Feb. 2015: “Talk mental health all you want but if I must work for piss poor #homeless slave #wages & can’t get property in my homeland..I may kill kids”
2:57 a.m. – 12 Feb. 2015: “I bet I could get at least 12 unarmed sitting ducks if I decide to go on a killing spree in a #school Sounds better than being a wage slave”
3:38 a.m. – 12 Feb. 2015: “USA needs a Hitler to rise to power and fix our #economy and i’m about ready to give my life to the cause or just shoot a bunch of #kikes…”
3:50 a.m. – 12 Feb. 2015: “If I had to pick between being homeless or shooting up a school and becoming dead, I’d say shooting up the school… Social security my ass”
So Hutson found out what he could to help point law enforcement in the right direction. As it turned out, police felt that they had gotten to the suspect just in time and averted a tragedy. The suspect, David Lenio, had just been to his storage unit to retrieve his weapons cache. It was a shining ray of good news in a dark sea of mass murders in 2015.
Hatewatch reported on the court documents:
On Feb. 14, after sending tweets filled with anti-Semitic comments and expressing a desire to copy other mass shootings, Lenio wrote: “I bet I’d take out at least a whole #classroom & score 30+ if I put my mind to it #Poverty is making me want to kill folks #mental health’#
That was followed by this: “This working and not have a god damn thing to show for it [is] bullshit [and] makes me wanna execute grade #school #kids til the cops take me out too.” He also wrote about his hatred of Jews and called the Holocaust a “lie beyond a reasonable doubt. It is now time to hunt the Nazi hunters.”
Hatewatch further reported, however.
When Twitter spotted his hateful messages in January, the social media provider shut down Lenio’s account, but he opened another, then another, mockingly displaying the ease with which he worked around Twitter’s policing.
What’s more, Lenio, age 29, who was released to the custody of his parents in Michigan while awaiting trial, was caught violating a court order to stay off of social media. Lenio violated the judge’s order at least 348 times as Hutson reported here on Daily Kos in November. The Montana media has been all over the story. Vince Devlin, writing in The Missoulian newspaper, reported what may be the money quote from Lenio’s court order defying Twitter binge:
One of the recent re-tweets from @PsychicDogTalk3, which authorities say was Lenio’s Twitter handle, is one that repeats part of a quote attributed to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who was discussing the Iran arms deal at the time.
“If someone says they want to kill you, believe them,” it says.
It’s right below a re-tweet of another post in which someone wrote, “I want to kill.”
I am glad that Twitter will try harder not to provide a platform for hate, intimidation, and terrorism. I am glad too that Lenio may eventually be tried. The next pretrial conference is in early February. It will have been almost a year since his arrest. But Hutson rightly points out that a double standard of justice may be at work in Lenio’s bail-less release, and no consequences violation of the generous terms of his release.
I question if he would be getting such preferential treatment if he weren’t white and the son of an investment banker. A Native American or Muslim man would be treated very differently...
Twitter, which gave lip service to humane values, did not put as much effort as they could have into reducing the participation of racists and other kinds of verbal bomb throwers threatening violence. And from the Affluenza defense to Ferguson — the many instances of double standards of justice are not working for us either. The various cultures of hate and violence are increasingly visible, and are likely to fester as we enter the summer before the elections.
I know we can do better than this.