Twitter’s Promise to Be ‘Clearer’ on Harassment Lasts Two Hours

After banning actress Rose McGowan's account, Twitter promised to be clearer on who gets blocked and why. That didn't last long.

Late last night, Twitter suspended Rose McGowan’s Twitter account after a series of tweets criticizing Harvey Weinstein and Ben Affleck, who were accused of sexual assault and groping respectively in high-profile stories and tweets this week.

After 12 hours and a storm of negative press coverage from Variety and The New York Times, Twitter responded with a statement.

“We have been in touch with Ms. McGowan's team. We want to explain that her account was temporarily locked because one of her Tweets included a private phone number, which violates of our Terms of Service. The Tweet was removed and her account has been unlocked,” said Twitter’s chief spokesperson, Jen Marcus.

“We will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.”

But when The Daily Beast responded to the emailed statement, seeking more clarity on why some who use its platform are rewarded for egregious targeted harassment that has led to attempted violence, the platform’s reps immediately declined to comment, then went dark.

The Daily Beast asked why accounts run by conspiracy theorists who accuse private citizens of crimes like pedophilia were awarded Verified check marks and were not suspended, even when private information was posted on their accounts.

Last November, a Pizzagate conspiracy theorist named Jack Posobiec videotaped a birthday party of a child he didn’t know at a pizza shop, live on Periscope and Twitter, as part of a series of posts where he accused the pizza shop owner of running a child sex ring with the help of the Hillary Clinton campaign. The video got #pizzagate to trend on Twitter.

A month later, armed gunman Edgar M. Welch fired shots into that same pizza shop. Welch told police “that he had read online that the Comet restaurant was harboring child sex slaves and that he wanted to see for himself if they were there.”

Five months later, Posobiec was made a Verified Twitter user.

The Daily Beast asked why this form of harassment was rewarded, while McGowan’s account was immediately suspended.

“Unfortunately I'm unable to provide a comment on this," Twitter’s Jen Marcus said, less than two hours after stating the company would “be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.”

Twitter has a years-long history of promising to be clearer and better about harassment on its service.

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Last year, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey insisted that “building new technology solutions, making sure our policies and enforcement are consistent, and educating people about both” was a top priority for the company.

In 2015, then-CEO Dick Costolo admitted that “we suck at dealing with abuse” and that “it’s nobody’s fault but mine.”

“We're going to start kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them,” he wrote. “Everybody on the leadership team knows this is vital.“

Since then, trolls—even ones aided by foreign governments—have thrived on the platform. When tasked by the Senate Intel Committee last month with detailing how foreign actors used Twitter to harass and bombard Americans with disinformation and hate, Senator Mark Warner called the company’s response woefully “inadequate on almost every level.”

It’s a feeling felt even moreso by tech journalists trying to get answers from the tech giant about its seemingly random enforcement of abuse.

The Daily Beast reached out to five reporters who cover communities on the web—from local news to national politics—to see if they have received a response from any Twitter public-relations representative in the last year that wasn’t the sentence “Twitter does not comment on individual accounts.”

All five said no. Many said they were ignored entirely.

Buzzfeed’s Alex Kantrowitz and Charlie Warzel first detailed Twitter’s default policy of silence in August, saying “Twitter’s favorite excuse is failing the public.”

“Every time I reach out to Twitter to comment on a story involving their policies or Terms of Service, I get stonewalled. It's the same response every time, if there even is a response. ‘Thanks for reaching out. We don't comment on individual accounts,’” said one tech reporter at a national magazine, who requested anonymity.

The reporter said the company will sometimes send a link to their terms of service “on deep background.”

“A story is essentially the same whether or not you reach out for clarity, which shouldn't be the case when a $13-billion tech company should be able to provide some rationale for their policy decisions involving public figures,” said the reporter.