It’s notoriously hard to describe vulgar speech. There’s a famous quote about obscenity from the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who admitted in 1964 that he couldn’t define it, but that knew it when he saw it.
In 2018, media outlets are still struggling to find the line between free expression and off-limits speech. It’s something that online platforms in particular have struggled with — and a Christian user on Twitter just found out that hard way that on social media, things sometimes get weird.
On Wednesday, conservative activist and preacher Demetrius Minor, who has over 13,000 followers on Twitter, was banned from the platform.
Twitter did reinstate him after a review, but figuring out what happened has some people scratching their heads and asking questions about bias.
In an email that Minor shared, Twitter informed the conservative that he had been locked out of his account for “violating our rules against hateful conduct.”
His hateful conduct? Well, there wasn’t any. In the tweet referenced by Twitter itself, Minor actually defended himself against a racially charged insult and turned the other cheek in a very Christian way.
More bizarrely, the tweet wasn’t from this year, or even last year. It was dated October 2012.
“House n****r kill yourself,” a tweet from another user was hatefully directed at Minor. In reply, the conservative man of faith wrote “I don’t have to die. Jesus already died for you.”
Somehow, that 6-year-old message had caused the conservative to be locked out of his own account.
“Why I got locked out for something I didn’t do 6 years (ago) is beyond me. PLEASE investigate charges before making reckless choices,” Minor posted once he had re-gained access to his account.
Again, it does look like Twitter lifted the ban quickly, and this could have been some sort of automated detection filter that went awry. With that said, there has been an alarming trend of conservatives dealing with all sorts of hoops and pitfalls on social networks.
African-American conservative commentators Diamond and Silk, for instance, were flagged as “unsafe” and blocked by Facebook. Another black conservative, Candace Owens, was hit with a ban on Twitter after she re-posted and criticized a liberal’s hateful comment — while that original didn’t get flagged.
“Twitter is apologizing after ‘Red Pill Black’ pundit and Turning Point USA director of communications Candace Owens was blocked from the platform for tweets she sent out criticizing the social media posts of Sarah Jeong, the controversial new pick for the editorial board of The New York Times,” Conservative Tribune reported in August.
There have also been instances of “shadow banning” by Twitter, which means that certain users’ posts seem normal to them, but are quietly covered up by the system and not shown to other users.
At what point does a sweeping attempt to scrub the internet of anything remotely offensive go too far, and become uncontrollable censorship?
There is no easy answer, but it’s something that society will need to solve soon.
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