Twitter has suspended the accounts of a number of American “alt-right” activists hours after announcing a renewed push to crack down on hate speech.
Among the accounts removed were those of the self-described white-nationalist National Policy Institute, its magazine, Radix, and its head Richard Spencer, as well as other prominent alt-right figures including Pax Dickinson and Paul Town.
Spencer, who according to anti-hate group SPLC “calls for ‘peaceful ethnic cleansing’ to halt the ‘deconstruction’ of European culture”, decried the bans as “corporate Stalinism” to right-wing news outlet Daily Caller.
“Twitter is trying to airbrush the alt right out of existence,” Spencer said. “They’re clearly afraid. They will fail!” Members of the Reddit forum r/altright called the move a “purge”.
Spencer’s ban is particularly notable, since he previously had a verified account on Twitter - the badge the company gives to noteworthy accounts to prove they are who they say they are. In the past, Twitter has stripped accounts of their verified status in the wake of abuse, as the company did with an editor at far-right news outlet Breitbart this year, but the company does not appear to have previously acted so conclusively against an account it had once given what could be interpreted as a badge of approval.
A Twitter spokesperson said “the Twitter Rules prohibit violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct, and multiple account abuse, and we will take action on accounts violating those policies.”
The move came the same day that Twitter announced a new push against hate speech and harassment on the site. The company announced new features intended to allow users to control what content appears in their notifications, but it also confirmed a change to its training process for moderators on the site, and a new set of tools for reporting hate speech.
Those changes were welcomed by users, but also seen as too little, too late. As with Facebook’s clampdown on fake news on its social network, users interpreted the social network as finally realising that its platform was facilitating and emboldening the far right, but only during the week after the far-right’s candidate of choice had won the US presidential election.
For former Twitter users, both those cast off the site due to their extreme views, or those quitting Twitter in protest, a new social network is hoping to hoover them up instead. Gab advertises itself with the slogan “Free speech for everyone”, and features a green frog as its logo. Webcomic character Pepe the Frog was added to an online hate symbol database in September owing to the figure’s co-option as an alt-right icon.
In a statement, Gab said: “We are a free-speech website and nothing more. Gab is open to all users, regardless of their political beliefs, ideology and moral views. Our mission is to put people first and to foster discourse without hindrance and proscription, as is occurring throughout the online community.
“We use a frog, because it has long been a symbol of fertility, creation, going back to the ancients. It’s seen as a symbol of prosperity.”
So far, though, the service has just 12,000 users, making it small in comparison to other far-right meeting places such as Stormfront.
This article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 16th November 2016 15.07 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010