Twitter Has No Remedy For White Supremacy And Election Interference
A day after a Twitter executive reiterated the company’s commitment to “healthy conversations,” they suspended David Neiwert, an expert on white supremacy.
On Monday, Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal and policy matters, spoke at the Code Conference. She tweeted:
Healthy conversations on Twitter is our most important goal. We’ve been working to improve Twitter’s ability to proactively detect and enforce our rules to help reduce the burden on people using Twitter. Here’s an update on our progress and what’s in the works: https://t.co/8Y6bisViwV
— Vijaya Gadde (@vijaya) April 16, 2019
Beyond promoting healthy conversations, what action is Twitter taking to combat our greatest civic malignancies: white supremacy and election interference?
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On Tuesday, Twitter suspended the account of David Neiwert, an acclaimed journalist who has chronicled the rise of right-wing radicalism in the U.S. Now a journalist for Daily Kos, Seattle-based Neiwert spent years reporting on extremist groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Kat Parsons wrote for Rantt Media that Neiwert has been “reporting on the far right for 20 years. In Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump, Neiwert outlines his experience reporting on the radical right in America.”
Parsons is a Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right, and a doctoral student in Justice, Law, and Criminology at American University. Her research focuses on the relationship between ideology and support for violence, and far-right extremism in the U.S. and Europe. She tweeted:
As a researcher of the radical right, it’s pretty concerning to see Twitter ban @DavidNiewert, an expert on the radical right, before banning say, @RichardBSpencer, a prominent white nationalist. @Twitter, what does this mean for the rest of us studying the radical right? https://t.co/BRwUJPfPa6
— Kat Parsons (@sparsons_kat) June 11, 2019
According to The Daily Beast, Neiwert said in a phone interview, “he was banned because the top image on his Twitter profile included an illustration from his book cover, which featured Ku Klux Klan hoods atop a series of stars from the American flag.”
Nick Martin who reported for The Daily Beast tweeted:
Twitter has temporarily suspended journalist and author @DavidNeiwert, who doggedly covers white supremacists and the far-right.
“They locked my account because of my book cover illustration,” he tells me by email.
Here’s his book cover: pic.twitter.com/Xf2Igy8DwF
— Nick Martin (@nickmartin) June 11, 2019
A spokesperson for Verso Books told Rantt Media in a statement:
“David Neiwert is one of the leading experts on the rise of far right movements in the U.S., and we are proud publishers of his book. Our decision to feature KKK hoods on the cover of Alt-America reflects the long history of white supremacy and right-wing movements in our country, which David reports on in critical detail. His work is vital to understanding and challenging the far-right, and Twitter should be able to distinguish between harmful hate speech and anti-extremist journalism and restore his account immediately.”
In January, Neiwert told The Guardian in an interview: “I believe that we’ve dug ourselves a really deep hole and we have a really long way to dig up.”
Given the surge in white supremacist terrorism in the United States and around the globe, Neiwert’s analysis is spot on.
A Failure To Combat Election Interference
On the matter of interference in U.S. elections, Politico reported last week that “Russia’s manipulation of Twitter was far vaster than believed,” saying, “the operators had the resources to create and manage a vast disinformation network.”
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller said, in his spoken remarks at the Justice Department and in his 448-page report, that “there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election, and that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”
Last year, Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey testified before a Congressional Committee. In a prepared statement to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Dorsey said:
“Conversely, abuse, malicious automation, and manipulation detracts from the health of our platform. We are committed to hold ourselves publicly accountable towards progress of our health initiative.”
Last month, I called the office of Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the committee before which Dorsey testified. I asked an aide in Walden’s office about President Trump’s tweet of a manipulated video of Nancy Pelosi. Taken from a broadcast on Fox News, the video Trump tweeted was doctored to make Pelosi seem drunk or impaired.
Twitter has allowed Trump’s tweet of the fake Pelosi video to stand in-tact and unannotated; apparently, it did not violate Twitter’s abuse policies. The fake video has received more than 6 million views. In April, Twitter executives wrote in a blog post that “building a Twitter free of abuse, spam and other things that distract from the public conversation is our top priority.”
When I asked whether Rep. Walden would hold Twitter and Dorsey accountable for Trump’s tweet of the fake Pelosi video, an aide to the Congressman told me, “Twitter is a private company. There’s nothing we can do. Mr. Dorsey testified voluntarily, he was invited.”
Twitter is a publicly traded corporation. BlackRock is the second largest institutional shareholder of Twitter stock (NYSE: TWTR), with a $1.5 billion stake. The CEO of BlackRock, Laurence Fink, is on the record saying the firm will support CEOs who make a positive contribution to society and hold those accountable who risk losing BlackRock’s support. (A spokesperson from BlackRock previously told me that, as a matter of company policy, they do not comment on specific companies or situations.)
As part of its effort to combat election interference, in advance of 2018 midterm elections, Twitter committed to verifying accounts of bona fide candidates. Politico reported last year:
“Twitter will rely on the website Ballotpedia to identify the legitimate accounts of those who’ve qualified for the ballot.”
Verified Twitter users are denoted by a blue checkmark — public figures are ostensibly vetted by the company for their authenticity. Twitter suspended its public verification program in 2017 after backlash over its verification of white supremacist Jason Kessler, the organizer of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville where counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed.
Although Twitter “paused” its verification program for the general public, Bridget Coyne, senior manager for public policy at Twitter, said in a blog post, about the company’s program to verify candidates in advance of 2018 elections:
“Providing the public with authentic, trustworthy information is crucial to the democratic process, and we are committed to furthering that goal through the tools we continue to build.”
Jan McDowell is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress from Texas’ 24th District, running in the 2020 election. McDowell’s Twitter account @JanForCongress remains unverified, despite multiple requests from campaign volunteers asking the company to verify the account. Jan’s Ballotpedia profile is well established. She ran a close race in 2018, garnering more than 125,000 votes.
As the Texas Tribune reported in May:
“When Democrat Jan McDowell ran for the 24th Congressional District last year, few outside the North Texas district were paying attention. Then something funny happened: She came surprisingly close to winning, losing to U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, by just 3 percentage points.”
Jan McDowell is not the only candidate who has had difficulty getting verified by Twitter, despite the company’s stated intentions.
Tom Taylor, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress from Utah’s 4th District in 2018, tweeted a thread last year about Twitter’s failure to verify candidates and the risk of damaging consequences. Taylor’s account was eventually verified, but prior to receiving Twitter’s blue check mark of authentication, he tweeted:
For a candidate, this is very important. I don’t want someone with devious intentions making an account like @Tom4Utah and pretending to be me in order to tarnish my name. EVERY candidate currently running for office should get this badge applied to their accounts. 3/8
— Tom Taylor (@TomForUtah) February 20, 2018
Taylor’s thread continued:
Getting accounts verified is important. Want to combat #FakeNews? Let’s make sure Twitter verifies our candidates so we can know the tweets we see actually come from the candidates, and not somewhere else. *cough Russia* 7/8
— Tom Taylor (@TomForUtah) February 20, 2018
What will Twitter executives, board members, and institutional shareholders do to cauterize the rise of white supremacy in America, and combat disinformation and interference in our elections?
If we hope to eradicate our country’s most dire ills, Twitter’s “health initiative” will need to provide real remedies, not just platitudes.
Twitter declined to comment but shared link to the company’s post on Election Integrity Policy.
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