One day ago we published a story titled, “Is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey The World’s Most Powerful Man?” In that article, SOFREP Staff Writer Sean Spoonts expressed the opinion that the reasoning presented by Twitter for suspending President Trump’s account did not align with the company’s stated policies.
The article was reviewed by the SOFREP editors, including myself, and we all concurred that his piece was a well-articulated editorial that examined the situation rationally without being slanderous or hostile. It was an opinion piece and marked as such.
Sean was not alone in expressing that opinion. Even the ACLU was critical of Twitter and other social media platforms for banning a President of the United States. Sean concluded by suggesting that the power that Twitter is exerting is more than one company — and one man — should have over U.S politics and public opinion.
Today, Sean Spoonts received an email notification from Twitter accusing him of “platform manipulation and spam.” Twitter’s relevant rules can be read here.
Sean contacted me the moment he noticed his account had been suspended. We discussed his actions on the platform and thought through any tweets or retweets that might have resulted in his account’s suspension.
“These rules are meant to apply to entities that use Twitter in an abusive commercial manner, mass DMs or tagging of accounts, coordinated campaigns to drive traffic to other sites, and so on and so forth,” Sean explained to me. “I haven’t done any of those things. I have about 1,800 followers and I use the account to give my opinion on news and current events.”
Sean, who oversees SOFREP’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, does retweet the stories he writes for SOFREP, but that clearly isn’t against the platform’s rules. Sean’s account was complete with his real name, likeness, and phone number. His account was clearly not a bot, fake, or spam account. He does not incite violence, nor use hate speech.
I even asked Sean if his account had been flagged before for violations of Twitter rules.
“I’ve had people report me for a Tweet they didn’t like, but I’ve always received notices from Twitter that [the tweets] did not violate the terms of service and would remain in place,” he explained. “I’ve never been suspended or banned to my recollection. My account is about seven years old.”
By any metric, Sean is a normal Twitter user who is engaging with the platform well within the stated code of conduct.
So why was his account suspended?
The answer may be more insidious than meets the eye.
While preparing the story for publishing, Sean and I, as well as other SOFREP staff members, were discussing the image we would use for the story’s lead. An idea to recreate the now infamous image produced by Kathy Griffin — which depicted her holding a facsimile of President Trump’s severed and bloody head — was tossed around. Instead of Griffin, we would photoshop in the face of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. With none of us having passable photoshop skills, Sean reached out to a Twitter follower — let’s call him George — who had previously posted photoshopped images on his account, and asked him if he could create the image for us. George did so and shared the image with Sean directly, off the platform.
After reviewing the image and discussing its impact, we ultimately decided that it would likely do more harm than good (read: result in SOFREP’s Twitter account getting suspended) and we went with another, less provocative image. We told George we wouldn’t be using the image and he asked if he could post it to his Twitter account. We agreed.
Griffin’s original photo generated a huge backlash, and some support, but did not result in her getting suspended. She even reposted the full, unedited image on her Twitter account on November 4, at 2:43 a.m., as votes for the presidential election were still being counted.
Today, when Sean called to tell me he had been suspended by Twitter, he informed me that George had also been suspended. We surmised that George had been suspended for tweeting the photoshopped image alongside the link to Sean’s SOFREP article. George did not tag Sean, nor did he call him out by name in his tweet.
Thus, I think it’s fair to assume that Sean was arbitrarily suspended from Twitter for a story he wrote that was mildly critical of the platform and Mr. Dorsey. In other words, someone at Twitter saw George’s Tweet, clicked it, read Sean’s article on SOFREP, and suspended Sean’s Twitter account in retaliation for writing the article.
I have to assume the accounts of the other military veteran journalists on our staff are now in jeopardy.
This is not to say that online platforms should not have standards or guidelines for behavior or that those guidelines should not be kept. But this is clearly not that. Sean was targeted for writing an article.
I will state here, on the record, that I have been on the fence about Twitter’s decision to ban the president. I feel, like so many Americans who find themselves in the level-headed middle, that banning the president was a watershed decision that will launch the platform and its peers onto a slippery slope of censorship on a massive scale. Apparently, the markets agree: Business Insider reported that Twitter has suffered five billion dollars in losses since removing President Trump’s account.
What’s more, Twitter’s actions seem to contradict the company’s own mission statement:
“The mission we serve as Twitter, Inc. is to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers. Our business and revenue will always follow that mission in ways that improve – and do not detract from – a free and global conversation.”
Clearly, when Twitter or its management is criticized, the conversation ceases to be free.
Sean Spoont’s Twitter handle is (or rather was) @sean_spoonts. Perhaps our loyal readers can add their voice to mine and demand that Twitter re-instate Sean’s account and stop the abject censorship of the platform’s innocent users.