I suppose I should be enjoying a bit of a schadenfreude moment: About two years ago, I was banned from commenting on Robert Stacy McCain's blog, The Other McCain, for offending one of his gatekeepers. Now Stacy's been banned from Twitter, apparently for offending one of its gatekeepers, professional offendee Anita Sarkeesian. But no feelings of poetic justice here. Because I'm above such petty sentiments, see?
McCain is not small beans in the twittersphere: Prior to his account suspension he had amassed more than 90,000 followers, many of whom hung on his every word. Agree with his opinions or not (I usually don't — his career has been an exercise in continual rotation between race-baiting, gay-bashing and tormenting feminists like Anita Sarkeesian), he's an engaging and entertaining guy.
Twitter's business model often seems sketchy to outside observers, but there's no doubt that it relies on one thing above all: Keeping big chunks of its 650 million users active and engaged with other users.
When the accounts of popular, prolific users with lots of followers suddenly and inexplicably disappear, eyebrows go up. And McCain is not alone. Since the Twitter's introduction of a "Trust and Safety Council" with Sarkeesian as a member, other right-wing tweeters have have had their accounts suspended (Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos), their "verified identity" credentials pulled (actor and anti-Sarkeesian #Gamergate thought leader Adam Baldwin), and so on. Twitter's algorithms have also seemingly been rigged to mute the spread of the news, including suppressing listing of #FreeStacy in Twitter's "hashtag" popularity rankings.
OK, I'm a libertarian. I understand and agree with the private property argument here. Twitter provides the service. Twitter owns the servers. Twitter gets to set the rules, and anyone who doesn't like them can go find (or build) a microblogging service with rules they DO like.
No contest. Twitter gets to be stupid if Twitter wants to be stupid. But that doesn't mean we can't notice that Twitter is being stupid and act accordingly. This kind of behavior could, and should, make Twitter the new MySpace, an Internet ghost town mostly remembered through mockery, in short order.
The Sarkeesian Method — Sarkeesian declares offense, Sarkeesian demands the offenders be suppressed, Sarkeesian collects a paycheck for publicly denouncing those who offended her — tends to lead to the Streisand Effect. That is, Sarkeesian and her enablers get bad publicity instead of good publicity.
Like I said, not good business for Twitter.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).