On Saturday evening, Twitter reinstated — with verification — the account of Richard Spencer, a leading figure of the so-called alt-right movement, and the head of the white nationalist think tank, The National Policy Institute.
Spencer's account was suspended mid-November as part of a larger cull of prominent alt-right accounts, including Ricky Vaughn (who was previously banned after a BuzzFeed News story detailing his campaign to disenfranchise voters with false information), former Business Insider CTO Pax Dickenson, and John Rivers. Twitter did provide a reason for the move at the time it was undertaken, leading many to conclude the accounts were suspended for violations of the company's prohibitions on targeted harassment, incitement, and hate speech.
However, according to Twitter, Spencer was banned on a technicality: creating multiple accounts with overlapping uses. Twitter's multiple account policy was put in place as a safeguard to help curb dog piling and targeted harassment. An email obtained by BuzzFeed News shows that Twitter suspended Spencer for overlapping accounts and offered to reinstate one of Spencer's accounts if he agreed to follow the company's protocols.
As referenced in our November 18, 2016 communication, creating serial and/or multiple accounts with overlapping use is a violation of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules).
Please select one account for restoration; the others will remain suspended. This account will need to comply fully with the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules). Please reply to this email with the username of the account you would like reinstated and we will make sure to answer your request in a timely manner.
"Our rules explicitly prohibit creating multiple accounts with overlapping uses. When we temporarily suspend multiple accounts for this violation, the account owner can designate one account for reinstatement, " a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. "Twitter Rules also prohibit hateful conduct, harassment, and violent threats. We will take action on accounts that violate these policies."
In a tweet posted a few minutes after his reinstatement, Spencer claimed he'd lobbied Twitter to get the account back. "I worked on getting my personal reinstated first. Next will be Radix, NPI, _AltRight_, and WSP," he said referring to the accounts of his White Nationalist think tank, journal, and publishing platform. Spencer did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.
The reinstatement of Spencer's account comes at a difficult policy moment for Twitter, which is grappling with platform policing issues in a post-Trump world. Spencer's ban in November angered free speech advocates and even political observers. After the ban, David Frum wrote of the seemingly arbitrary policing of Spencer's account in The Atlantic noting, "In the case of Richard Spencer, however, there is no evidence of harassment or incitement to harass. The same can be said of most (although not all) of the other accounts suspended on November 15. These suspensions seem motivated entirely by viewpoint, not by behavior."
Twitter's enforcement efforts around politically minded trolls and fringe political groups, including white nationalists, has been opaque since since the company decided to permanently suspend noted troll and Breitbart writer, Milo Yiannopoulos this summer. At the time, Twitter suggested the decision to suspend stemmed from Yiannopoulos using his account to incite his followers to harass targets and that the ban was the result of actions and not speech.
Just this week, Twitter came under pressure to address the actions of Donald Trump, after the President-elect's tweets lashing out against Indiana union leader Chuck Jones prompted Jones to receive threatening phone calls. As BuzzFeed News wrote last week, Trump's tweets raised "questions about whether such behavior might run afoul of Twitter’s gauzy rules for conduct and its prohibitions against harassment and incitement." Twitter declined to comment as to whether Trump's tweets were in violation of Twitter's rules. However, public scrutiny and Trump’s use of platform might be causing unease. At a Recode event last week, Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey was asked what Twitter thought about the President-elect’s use of the service. Dorsey’s response: “complicated.”
Though Spencer's Twitter account has been restored, he is now tip-toeing around the company's three strike policy, which carries a permanent suspension. A few hours after his reinstatement, Spencer appears to be back to form:
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at email@example.com.
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