Another week, another eruption of abuse on Twitter. This time, it was Breitbart writer and self-anointed “supervillain of the Internet” Milo Yiannopoulos, whom the company finally banned after he stoked his followers into flooding Ghostbustersactress Leslie Jones with hateful and racist messages. Yiannopoulos went so far as to tweet out fake screenshots of things Jones supposedly but did not actually say on Twitter. In the end, Jones said she would leave Twitter altogether.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was apparently aware of the situation, tweeting at Jones as early as Monday evening. But Twitter still took another day to finally kick Yiannopolous off the platform after facing considerable public pressure. On Thursday afternoon, Jones posted a short tweet saying she was grateful for the public’s support. “People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter,” Twitter said in a statement addressing the incident. “But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others.”
Well, fine. That was certainly the right thing for Twitter to do, and as no shortage of incidents show, dealing with online abuse effectively can be tricky. But after years of Twitter maturing as a community and a company, including a seemingly robust anti-abuse policy, what gives? Why didn’t Twitter take more decisive—and frankly, faster—action?
Yes, Twitter walks a fine line in balancing its identity as an open network for all views while at the same time reserving the right to police content so that a mob can’t overpower and harass a single user. And in a lot of ways, it’s made progress: it explicitly banned revenge porn last year. It routinely works with groups to refine its anti-abuse tools, and it hasn’t shied away from banning other high-profile users in the past, including pop star Azealia Banks and right-wing troll Chuck C. Johnson. But some say Twitter is running out of excuses in its failure to fully address this problem. And that’s a shame, because there’s no other network that has accrued quite the same cultural currency as Twitter.