- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Twitter’s decision to ban a prominent conservative commentator has reignited debate over whether progressive-leaning social media companies can serve as impartial moderators of political discourse.

One day after his Monday night run-in with comedian Leslie Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently barred from the social media site. The gay conservative provocateur accused Miss Jones of playing the “victim” for complaining about receiving hate mail and called her role in the “Ghostbusters” reboot “terrible.”

Miss Jones reported Mr. Yiannopoulos‘ remarks to Twitter authorities. His fans responded by inundating the comedian with harassing and racially charged tweets.

The suspension comes on the heels of accusations that Facebook curators suppressed stories of interest to conservatives from that platform’s influential “Trending” tab, where millions of Americans receive their news daily.

Christian Toto, who runs the culture blog HollywoodInToto.com, said Twitter’s handling of the incident certainly didn’t mend any fences between conservatives and Silicon Valley progressives.

“Conservatives don’t trust the mainstream media, and there’s a very, very good reason for that,” Mr. Toto said. “We’ve seen their biases, and they’ve only seem to have gotten worse. I think conservatives are weary of a social media platform that appears to judge it more harshly than the other side of the ideological aisle.”

He pointed to Twitter accounts that have called for violence against police but have not been suspended.

“If you do a quick look through Twitter at any given time, you find a lot of truly monstrous attacks and hate speech and truly vicious things, particularly against police officers, and from what I can tell, I don’t see people being suspended right and left from the service, either temporarily or permanently,” Mr. Toto said.

Indeed, Twitter recently created an emoji to draw awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement, over which conservatives and liberals are sharply divided.
That kind of behavior by social media sites has led to widespread accusations of anti-conservative bias and a political double standard.

“I do think it hurts their image and potentially hurts their standing in the conservative realm if they suspend or take out Milo from the service and yet leave a lot of other accounts alive and well,” Mr. Toto said. “It seems there’s a clear imbalance there.”

He called for liberals to speak out against political bias in social media. But the progressive response to Twitter’s action has largely been one of praise.

Jennifer Grygiel, assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University, said Twitter should take more action to root out cyberbullying over social media.

“Research has found increased physical and psychological problems in adolescents that experienced cyberbullying — it’s important to consider the impact that cyberbullying may have on adult women who are cyberbullied,” Ms. Grygiel said in a statement. “There are real implications behind Twitter’s inability to regulate content — and this issue is not limited to Twitter but is also seen on other platforms such as Facebook.”

She said Twitter should hire more moderators to regulate content on social media, pointing out that computerized monitoring systems are often ineffective.

After being inundated with racist and harassing tweets, Miss Jones retweeted messages from her harassers and asked Twitter to intervene on her behalf.

Twitter I understand you got free speech I get it,” she said in a tweet. “But there has to be some guidelines when you let spread like that.”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey publicly reached out to Miss Jones, and the company took quick and decisive action to suspend or ban accounts that had taken part in the trolling, including Mr. Yiannopoulos‘.

Mr. Yiannopoulos, who serves as tech editor of Breitbart.com, said the notion that he should be held accountable for the actions of his fans is “pretzel logic.”

Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left,” he told Breitbart.

After the suspension, Twitter issued a statement mentioning neither Mr. Yiannopoulos nor Miss Jones by name. It did not specifically address why Mr. Yiannopoulos was banned from the platform.

“Over the past 48 hours, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of Tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension,” the unnamed spokesperson said.

Subsequent media requests by The Washington Times were met by links to the company’s guidelines on harassment.

Twitter’s response to the incident stands in sharp contrast to the way Facebook handled allegations of bias.

After an ex-staffer told Gizmodo that conservative stories were regularly suppressed from the “Trending” news tab, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg immediately addressed the accusations and later invited prominent conservatives to the company’s headquarters to discuss how to create a more impartial platform.

Mr. Toto said he was disappointed in Twitter’s lack of transparency, especially compared to the example set by Facebook.

“I give Facebook credit; they met with conservatives a few weeks back,” he said. “That’s certainly a good first step. But until situations like this stop happening, I think people are going to wonder.”

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