I run a relatively decent sized online community based around Arsenal football club. It’s called Arseblog, and it’s been running as a website since 2002.
There is, it would be fair to say, robust discussion of the football team, and the language can, at times, be considered industrial. That’s ok, we’re all grown-ups, and some curse words never really did anyone any harm. We encourage debate and discussion. Football is a game of opinions and all that. It would be boring if everyone agreed, but those who do comment are expected to meet certain standards.
We have a comments policy that people must adhere to, and if they don’t, we can do two things.
1 – We can place all their comments in moderation until such time as they demonstrate their compliance (sometimes some innocent people get caught up in this, and it’s a bit frustrating but it’s unfortunately necessary).
2 – We ban them. No ifs, ands, or buts. They’re banned. Heroes style, forever and ever.
Let me give you a few examples of things that would get you banned:
Let’s say you threatened to rape someone. Banned.
If you used racist language towards someone. Banned.
If you thought espousing your Nazi sympathies was a good idea. Banned.
If you posted someone’s personal information on the site to goad others into bombarding them with hate. Banned.
If you were homophobic. Banned.
If you’re sexist. Banned.
If you post spam or are some kind of bot. Banned.
If you use the site to threaten people with harm, especially me. Banned.
If your hilarious username was something like ‘ifuckkids9845484’. Banned.
If you’re not interested in discussion, but only to wind people up or troll. Banned.
Now, if it sounds like it’s a constant bombardment of these kind of people, it’s not. They are very rare on Arseblog because I don’t think we attract those kind of people in general, but also because we have standards and we implement and maintain them rigorously.
Now, we use Twitter every day too. It’s an important tool for the website, both as a source of a news and a way of getting our own stories out there and engaging with the readers.
Even if football Twitter, and Arsenal Twitter can get a bit mad at times, we don’t get exposed to the worst of the platform, but you don’t have to scratch the surface too far to see what lies underneath. And all of the things listed above that get you banned from Arseblog on a permanent basis go unpunished all the time on Twitter.
People are threatened and abused on a daily basis, and there are countless examples of users reporting obvious racism or other harmful messages and being told the Terms of Service have not been violated. A woman who is fearlessly exposing sexual predators and rapists is suspended, while a man who has openly admitted to sexually assaulting women and has the highest political office can threaten a country with nuclear annihilation with impunity.
The only conclusion we can take from that is that despite what they might say about safety, violations of their TOS and everything else, Twitter has no commitment to maintaining any standards when it comes to their platform.
They pay lip-service to it, because they have to be seen to do that, but they’re not serious about it. If they were, there’s a lot they could do, you know, like banning people forever and ever, but they don’t. Their desperation for active users breeds an increasingly nasty environment, and one that will ultimately be counter-productive.
You wouldn’t choose to go into a bar full of hateful racists and Nazis, so why would you choose to spend your time online in such close proximity to those kind of people? More and more it becomes a beacon for the lowest common denominator online (and that’s pretty fucking low), while I’ve witnessed a rise in previously regular users drifting away or disappearing altogether
If I allowed sexism, racism, homophobia and other prejudiced, bigoted hate on Arseblog, it would be a reflection of my site and who I am as a person.
So, as Twitter continues to willfully and deliberately ignore the problems that people have been openly discussing and flagging to them for a long time now, it tells us a lot about who they are, and the kind of service they’re happy to stand over. There are still great things about it, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore what’s bad.
You reap what you sow, and Twitter’s refusal to apply standards which should be obvious to everyone will be its downfall unless they act quickly and decisively.
Even then it might already be too late.