A year ago, I was locked out of my Twitter account. On Friday morning, with no explanation, my account was unlocked. For a journalist, losing access to Twitter and to one’s followers is no small thing. I don’t have a huge following, but Twitter is an important platform in my industry, and losing my access to it limited my ability to do my job effectively.
I was locked out for saying that Rachel Levine, a high-ranking official in the Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services, is a man. Levine is “trans.” He identifies and dresses as a woman, but he is a man.
To be clear, I wasn’t saying that to be nasty but because The Babylon Bee, a Christian satire site, had been censored and locked out by Twitter for naming Levine its “Man of the Year” in mockery of USA Today. USA Today had included Levine, a man, as one of its 2022 “Women of the Year.” (To be clear, even if I had said it to be nasty, that still doesn’t justify Twitter’s censorship.)
I wrote a column about the Bee’s account getting locked by Twitter censors, and about how its editor-in-chief and others were subsequently locked out for tweeting about what had happened. Then I tweeted out my column. This is what I said:
Notice that what I said wasn’t even primarily about Levine, but about Big Tech censorship in the name of woke ideology, regardless of the truth. It didn’t matter. As if to prove my point completely, a few days later I got a notice from Twitter that my account had been locked for violating Twitter’s policy regarding “hateful conduct.” By calling Levin a man, I had “misgendered” him and thus had engaged in hateful conduct.
Twitter informed me that if I simply deleted the offending tweet, I would get my account back. By deleting it, said Twitter, I would be acknowledging that I had indeed engaged in hateful conduct and would be agreeing not to do so again in the future.
In essence, Twitter wanted me to confess my sin, do penance, and receive absolution. If I refused, I would remain in Twitter purgatory, unable to access my account or use Twitter at all. Or, to shift metaphors, Twitter was asking me to engage in a Maoist-style struggle session and confess my thoughtcrimes in order to regain access to my account.
I refused. For one thing, I had not in fact engaged in “hateful conduct.” As I wrote at the time, it is actually hateful to affirm men and women struggling with gender dysphoria in the delusion that they can change their sex. Telling the plain truth is, in this context, the opposite of hateful conduct.
Twitter’s policy on “misgendering” is the equivalent of saying we should “affirm” women struggling with anorexia by telling them they really are overweight and need to be thinner. Affirm the mental illness, in other words. That of course would be cruel, just as it is cruel to affirm the delusion that a person is a member of the opposite sex.
Not that any of that mattered to Twitter. My multiple appeals were ignored, as far as I can tell. I never got a response of any kind. Even after Elon Musk bought Twitter and boasted about how it heralded a new era of free speech on the platform, I remained locked out.
Fast forward to this week, and my colleague Sean Davis also got locked out. His crime? Factually reporting on the “Trans Day Of Vengeance” following the murder of three children and three staff members at a Christian school in Tennessee at the hands of a transgender shooter.
“The cold-blooded mass murder at a Christian school in Nashville by an apparent transgender person came just days before a planned ‘Trans Day Of Vengeance’ organized by the Trans Radical Activist Network,” wrote Davis in the tweet Twitter locked him out of his account over.
Every word of that statement is true, but Musk-era Twitter still found an escuse to censor Davis for having the temerity to tweet it. According to Twitter, Davis violated the platform’s rules against “violent speech” simply by stating a fact, that a trans activist group was planning a “Trans Day of Vengeance.” Others, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Daily Wire journalist Luke Rosiak were also censored on Twitter for reporting on the “Trans Day Of Vengeance.”
Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, claimed Twitter had to “automatically sweep our platform and remove >5000 tweets /retweets of [the ‘Trans Day of Vengeance’] poster.”
But Davis never shared the poster. He simply linked to a Daily Wire news report about the event that included the poster as part of its coverage, as any honest media outlet should. Irwin and Twitter, however, pretended that anyone tweeting about the “Trans Day of Vengeance” was promoting it, and hence promoting violence.
“We do not support tweets that incite violence irrespective of who posts them,” Irwin said on Twitter. “‘Vengeance’ does not imply peaceful protest. Organizing or support for peaceful protests is ok.”
By doing this, Irwin not only lied about the facts but defamed Davis and everyone else who reported accurately on what these trans activists were planning. According to Twitter’s twisted logic, reporting on, say, a jihadi terrorist threat would be tantamount to supporting it.
Initially, Twitter rejected Davis’ appeal, maintaining that he did indeed engage in “violent speech.” But then, on Friday morning his account was unlocked, along with mine.
Robby Starbuck appears to have alerted Irwin and Musk to the Federalist staff bans after Twitter also locked out The New York Post (again). Starbuck, a conservative director and producer, had to explain to Twitter execs how their own platform was working, that it was pulling and attaching the image of the “Trans Day of Vengeance” poster to every tweet that linked to the Daily Wire news story about the event.
As Starbuck noted, journalists should able to report on things like the “Trans Day of Vengeance,” especially in the immediate wake of a transgender maniac slaughtering a bunch of innocent people. “The public deserved to know about Trans Day of Vengeance so they could plan to avoid areas there may be danger,” wrote Starbuck. “We don’t want a press afraid to post/talk about that out of fear they’ll be locked out of their accounts.”
That’s exactly right. Unfortunately, the whole episode illustrates the inherent problem with content moderation and enforcement on all social media platforms, not just Twitter. Whether the owner is Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, censorship and propaganda are unavoidable as long as these companies believe they can and should police what people are allowed to say online.
As I argued in a recent edition of Hillsdale College’s Imprimis publication, the entire concept of content moderation is a euphemism for suppressing disfavored speech under the pretext of neutrality. Content moderation policies are at best an excuse to ban or block whatever a social media company’s executives do not like. At worst, as the “Twitter Files” have shown, content moderation provides cover for a policy of pervasive government censorship that would otherwise run afoul of the First Amendment.
I suppose I’m glad to have my Twitter account back, but honestly, I’m not sure I’ll go back to using it. Not only is life better when you don’t use social media, but Twitter obviously has all the same problems it had before Musk took over, and it’s not at all clear whether the platform can be salvaged.
For all Musk’s promises, it’s obvious that Twitter is no haven for free speech. Whatever else has changed at Twitter, one big thing hasn’t changed: if you say the wrong thing, Twitter will censor you.