Punching Nazis is a divisive activity in 2019. As Twitter users continue to feud over whether punching a Nazi is acceptable offline behavior, Twitter itself stumbled into the debate this week.
The platform suspended an account on Tuesday for posting a cartoon of Captain America pummeling a Nazi villain, designating the comic “hateful imagery.”
The image depicts Captain America attacking the Red Skull, one of his longtime foes and an avowed Nazi. The antagonist has a swastika emblazoned on his chest—possibly what a Twitter image scanning algorithm flagged for removal. As he’s flying through the air, the Red Skull bemoans, “So much for the tolerant left.”
Allen McIntire, a software developer in Asheboro, North Carolina, used the drawing as his header photo for his Twitter account @CodeReclaimers to poke fun at what he saw as a perpetually and overly aggrieved right-wing mentality. He described his Twitter persona to The Daily Beast as “shouting into the void.”
McIntire woke up Tuesday morning to discover Twitter had suspended his account, though he estimated he’d been tweeting under the image for more than a year. The email he received said he needed to change his cover photo to regain access to his account, so he changed it to a mashup of the original comic and Twitter’s suspension notification.
He tweeted his frustration at Twitter. In all, he estimated Twitter locked his account for a couple hours. He was surprised he had been reported since he never received any threats or even strong pushback in replies, he said.
“I figured even as hypersensitive as people can be, cartoon violence against Nazis would be safe,” he said in an interview. “I don’t have a huge following, either. It’s rare I get more than 10 likes or retweets. It’s low volume. I’m not the kind of person anyone will bother reporting, but who knows.”
Twitter spokeswoman Raki Wane said of the suspension, “Looks like a mistake was made on our end and the account has now been reinstated.”
McIntire suspected he was the victim of an automated scanning system that looks at the billions of tweets that appear every day.
“That was why I reposted the image as my cover photo. Is there a person in that loop at Twitter, or was it some system that doesn’t require any of Twitter’s employees to do anything?”
He was more amused than outraged at the suspension, though.
“I think Twitter is overwhelmed. I can appreciate it’s a difficult problem, but they seem clumsy about how they handle it,” he said. “Even if you get one tenth of one percent of cases wrong, people will be angry, but I just thought it was funny.”
Twitter has long struggled with content moderation and addressing harassment, sometimes hitting users harder than necessary and sometimes using too light a touch. For example, the company said a man who mailed pipe bombs to prominent Democrats did not violate his rules when he had tweeted threats at a journalist just two weeks prior. The company has suspended and reinstated professed white nationalists multiple times.
To test whether all images of Captain America punching Nazis will trigger Twitter’s content moderation algorithms, this reporter reported Daily Beast editor-in-chief Noah Shachtman’s pinned tweet, which depicts Captain America punching a Nazi soldier with a swastika armband, for sharing offensive content. The Beast will update this story if his account is suspended.