Twitter Gives the Alt-Right the Bird

We are blessed to live in a time where breaking news, political gossip, public drags and a developing cultural memescape can be found all in the same corner of the internet. As the famous Twitter proverb goes, “I can’t believe this website is free,” because the sheer variety and quantity of the information produced daily is astounding. Twitter is structured to provide account and hashtag recommendations to suit all interests, allowing users to prepare a media diet that is tailor made. Generally, as an average user, most tweets are shouts into the void that glean favorites and retweets from a slow drip of interaction with the accounts of random strangers who share your fandoms and old high school acquaintances who haven’t unfollowed you yet.  On a website with 330 million monthly users, rising above the fray as a source of relevant content is no small feat. If a person does manage to receive the laurel wreath of the blue verification checkmark, it is the cultural consensus that the user has been deemed a person of public interest, such as accounts maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas. As of late, obtaining verification is no longer the Herculean task it once was, and as always, it is a process dogged by controversy.

Twitter’s verification standards have slowly developed over the years, and now it is easier than ever to apply. It is clear that Twitter is responding to the rapid expansion of the different cultures within the site and the need to corroborate the identities of the influential profiles within them. While Twitter claims that verification places no value judgment on views expressed by users, there’s a general understanding that verified users hold a certain weight in their 280 characters. Not all tweets are created equal.

But this nuance should be no problem for a user base that is used to the daunting and diverse winds that constantly alter internet culture, right?

Of course not. Online anonymity is a helluva drug, and in the current political climate, people feel very little need to equivocate their opinions. This intense reactionism simmers within the developing Twitter communities as they find their stride. As always, there is one burgeoning group that has everybody nervous: the White Nationalists. Anyone familiar with the tumultuous state of American politics surrounding the election of President Donald Trump is aware that the Alt-Right is having quite a moment for themselves. Using their edgy haircuts, suit jackets and online savvy, advocates of ethnic cleansing have pulled an impressive rebrand of their movement. Naturally, as their presence grows on Twitter, their amount of verified users has risen as well.

Between the sexual harassment, death threats and doxxing, Twitter has always been a somewhat dysfunctional place, but the increasing cultural conflict has reached a new fervor as people see verification as endorsement rather than an objective identity authentication. This isn’t without reason, because verified accounts are perceived as a status symbol, they can set their settings to only show interaction from other verified accounts, and they benefit from algorithms that increase the reach of their tweets. Twitter users are used to a fair amount of online trolling, but most balk at the idea of open White Supremacist ranting being placed on par with the regular ranting about politics and pop stars. The silence of the Twitter administrators has been deeply criticized, because regardless of their objective intentions, the situation is clearly a problem.

When backed up against the wall of accusations of enabling and implicit support of White Nationalists, Twitter finally announced an internal review of their verification process. As of November 15, Twitter placed a hold on all new verification applications, as well as a commitment to quietly review the status of all currently verified accounts. Of course, nothing on the internet is ever “quiet,” especially not the collective outrage of swastika touting racists who have lost their digital blue badges. In an unprecedented move, Twitter followed through on their promise to address user complaints. Even Richard Spencer, the high profile face of the Alt-Right movement, was not immune to the purge. Known to “party like it’s 1933,” Spencer boasts 80.6K Twitter followers, and their devotion is the internal flame that has birthed Alt-Right conferences and marches in the temporal realm. It’s hard to fathom why a person with multiple pictures of themselves in “Sieg Heil” position has survived this long without reprimand, but losing verification is a start.

From all the bellyaching that has ensued, you would think that these people are experiencing the inequality they so freely prescribe upon other races, genders, sexualities, ethnicities, abilities, religions, and political affiliations. Despite the majority of them being allowed to remain on the website, and have their tweets shown as per usual, they claim that their identity and way of life is officially under attack. This interpretation of the First Amendment has them raising the question: is Twitter violating their free speech?

The short answer? No. Twitter is a private company that is allowed to set their own guidelines for users, not that these accounts have even been formally banned in the first place. While monitoring their content will always be a fine line, private companies are allowed to do whatever they want. And ironically enough, many within this community have voiced active support for private companies discriminating against employees and customers on the basis of race, gender, religion and sexuality.

Ah, the duality of Pepe bots.

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