That is what he called me. He did not question my ideas. He did not challenge the subject of my tweets. He simply looked at the color of my skin and decided that I had no right to speak as a result of it.
As anyone with a functioning pair of eyes in their head will be able to tell you after seeing my profile picture, I am Black. As is the case with day-to-day life, this results in a degree of discrimination online—on Twitter that is amplified as people decide that, free from consequences, they will send whatever abuse they please in my direction. He was not the first to call me “n*gg*r,” and wasn’t the last either. It happened again 20 minutes later. This abuse goes on, ignored by the powers that be. And so I decided to take a stand and report it to Twitter.
Contrary to the claim that Twitter takes reports of abuse “very seriously,” they did absolutely nothing. Apparently calling someone “n*gg*r” isn’t counted as “abusive” and “is not violating the Twitter Rules.” Considering Twitter’s definitive retaliation to the abuse of Leslie Jones, it’s clear they are capable of intervening. Yet in my case they chose not to. This response, or lack of, shocked me. There was even a follow-up email:
“We reviewed the account and the content reported and are unable to take action given that we could not determine a clear violation of the Twitter Rules surrounding abusive behavior.”
What counts as abuse? Not much, by the standards of Twitter. After their inaction over the latest onslaught of racist abuse directed towards me, it becomes clear that they do not care about resolving the racism and misogyny running rampant on their site. Every “crackdown on abuse” so far has been utterly pathetic. Other pearls of wisdom from this particular Tweeter include “fucking dyke” and “#BanMuslisNotGuns.”
His account continues. Twitter “Support” did not intervene.
I use Twitter because I want to be a part of the public discourse, to actively engage with new ideas, to remain aware of topical discussions, and to learn from a broad variety of perspectives. It’s a conversation spanning the globe, and I want to add my voice. Actively participating in that dialogue, rightly, involves a degree of challenge. It results in talking with people whose ideas and beliefs run contrary to my own. That’s a risk that is more than worth taking—how else can any perspective evolve? That critical engagement is an essential part of public discourse, in developing ideas with merit and discarding those without.
Those using Twitter as a tool to harass are not there to take part in that vital conversation. I will not refer to them as trolls, because that term negates the true extent of the harm they cause through doxing, stalking and otherwise abusing those they believe undeserving of the right to participate in public discourse. Their behavior isn’t a bold manifestation of free speech—it is quite the opposite, designed to intimidate others into silence and limit the range of ideas shared. Instead of challenging the merit of ideas, they indulge in the most petty sort of identity politics, challenging the right of anyone who isn’t white and male to voice an opinion. They contribute in no way to public discourse.
Twitter provides support, but for whom? There is a clear disparity between how social media sites treat their wealthy white users—Instagram erased all the snake emojis left in Taylor Swift’s comments after her latest bout of celebrity drama—and people of color. In taking no action, Twitter implicitly condones racist abuse. It is high time it challenged racism, and asserted that it has no place in any conversation.