Tech, Now + Beyond

Twitter unverified a troll, and unleashed a dark new Internet subculture

When higher-ups at social media platforms take action against these groups, they send a clear message: your deluded notion of “free speech” doesn’t mean sh*t.

Yesterday, Twitter removed the blue verification badge from user Milo Yiannopoulos’ account, sparking a conversation across the platform on the supposed-censorship of supposed-conservative media. Yiannopoulos, Breitbart tech editor and Twitter troll, had been harassing women on the platform through targeted tweets, and ultimately was reported en masse and was “sat at the naughty table” by Twitter HQ.

Similar to the Facebook-Trump discussion, Yiannopoulos’ deverification is a slap on the wrist rather than the deserved account suspension because Yiannopoulos is a public figure with a significant following. It’s difficult to toe the line between freedom of speech and hate speech, a dilemma not lost on Yiannopoulos’ followers. They have since latched on to the idea that Twitter is against free speech, and that Yiannopoulos’ deverification proves this.

Launching the ridiculous hashtag #JeSuisMilo (co-opted from the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag borne of the Charlie Hebdo attacks), and by changing their Twitter icon photos to Yiannopoulos’ face, the members of this dark Internet subculture are driving the web’s free speech politics deeper and deeper.

Yes, free speech grants you the fundamental right to say what you want in any circumstance, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be held accountable for it. Those who cry First Amendment when their publicly-expressed bigotry isn’t received well fail to understand the core idea behind free speech— it is exercised at your own discretion.

When a social media platform takes action against accounts such as Yiannopoulos’ (amongst others), it’s done in order to protect users, rather than police the politics of the platform itself. Yiannopoulos’ claim that Twitter is waging a war against conservatives is more of a reflection of today’s blurred line between right-wing politics and outright bigotry. There’s nothing inherently wrong with expressing a political view, but when political expression becomes targeting users for sport, there will be (well-deserved) backlash.

Yiannopoulos’— and I use this term extremely loosely— work makes it evident that the he is more inclined towards inflammatory journalism, often targeting “social justice warriors” (a scathing term for intersectional feminists). The deverification is a victory for anyone who’s seen the cesspit of hatred and aggravation that Twitter can turn into, and by refusing to legitimize trolls such as Yiannopoulos, Twitter sends a clear message.

At its heart, social media is a place for engaging in discussion and sharing content, but has also bred a subculture of MRA-types who are focused on derailing important issues under the guise of disagreeing with them. These groups rally not only on Twitter, but hubs such as Reddit and 4Chan as well. Of course, they’re on other platforms, but the latter three have had the most troubling bouts of stalking and abuse. When higher-ups at social media platforms take action against these groups, they send a clear message: your deluded notion of “free speech” doesn’t mean shit.

  • Shayan Farooq

    Shayan was creating mini documentaries profiling Pacific Asian artists for the USC Pacific Asia Museum of Pasadena. You can follow her on Twitter, but not in real life.