Spotlight, Top Stories

Why I’m Suing Twitter

This is a response to “Who Controls the Platform?“—a multi-part Quillette series authored by social-media insiders. Submissions related to this series may be directed to pitch@quillette.com.

Progressives who claim that “reality has a liberal bias” may be correct on certain issues. But problems emerge when the facts don’t co-operate with the liberal narrative. We saw an example recently, when it emerged that actor Jussie Smollett had been formally charged with making up a hoax hate-crime involving MAGA-hat-wearing men assaulting him with bleach, a noose and racist, homophobic epithets. As Quillette’s Andy Ngo noted, Smollett’s original claim attracted an outpouring of performative sympathy from an all-star cast of liberal grandees. But when it turned out the attack never happened, most of those same commentators kept mum. A similar pattern played out with the boys from Covington Catholic High School caught on video at the Lincoln Memorial: Too often, observers seize on a fashionable narrative and either reject or ignore evidence that falsifies it—because what counts for them is less about the actual truth of a claim, and more about how much on-brand social-media value is associated with boosting it. Call it doublethink or virtue-signaling. But whatever label you choose, the phenomenon has real effects on public policy—as my own experience shows.

Earlier this year, lawyers acting on my behalf filed a legal complaint against Twitter in California. The social media behemoth has been suspending accounts, not because users break Twitter rules, but because they break rank. Despite repeated claims that the platform exists as a space for free speech, and the company’s professed public commitment to refrain from banning users for ideological reasons, Twitter is now doing just that. Those who fail to adhere to the company’s preferred politics are picked off, with no accountability to speak of.

During an interview on a recent podcast, Sam Harris pressed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on the recent ideological crackdown. Dorsey responded that the platform did not generally ban people for “one tweet,” but that it looked at “behaviours in the background” to determine which users should be suspended. Dorsey referenced behaviours like “doxing,” “threats of violence,” operating multiple accounts in order to harass particular people, and inducing “troll armies intending to silence someone.” I have done none of these things, yet was banned from the platform anyway, supposedly for breaking Twitter rules. Which rules? I can’t tell you—because Twitter hasn’t told me.

At the time I was suspended, in November, 2018, Twitter did identify the Tweet I was banned for, but offered no specific explanation as to why it was problematic. My Tweet was posted on November 8, and read, “Yeeeah it’s him.” I was referencing a Vancouver-area tech worker, serial litigant, and body-waxing enthusiast named Jonathan/Jessica Yaniv, and had included a screen shot of a review Yaniv had left online (for an esthetician named “Ally” at “Foxy Box,” who had apparently done a “great” job on his Brazilian bikini wax). Twitter claimed this constituted “hateful conduct.”

Twenty minutes after I received notice of my permanent suspension, for tweeting information that already was public (which is to say, Yaniv had posted this review online, publicly, for all to see, under the name “Jonathan Yaniv”), Pink News published an article announcing that the platform suddenly had changed its rules so as to ban “misgendering” and “deadnaming.” The timing was astonishing.

“Misgendering” refers to the practice of identifying a biologically male individual as “him” or “he” if the individual in question identifies as a transwoman (or vice versa in the case of self-identified transmen). “Deadnaming” refers to the practice of using the real name that a (now) trans-identified person used prior to deciding that they wanted a new gender identity and the associated pronouns. But even if one accepts the premise that these are objectionable acts, they don’t apply to what I did. That’s because Yaniv, a biological male, continues to use a male name on social media, does not seem to specify female pronouns (as of this writing), and is, by all outward appearances, male, notwithstanding a variety of irregularly exhibited “feminine” affectations, such as wearing makeup and posing for selfies in a woman’s bathroom.

Even if I had been guilty of “misgendering,” the suspension still wouldn’t make sense according to Twitter’s own Terms of Service, which state that users will be given 30 days notice of any planned changes to Twitter rules. (In this case, the company didn’t notify anyone until after the fact). The Terms of Service also specify that changes to the rules will not be applied retroactively. Yet I was banned on November 23 for a tweet posted on November 8. Why? I am yet to receive an explanation.

So Twitter is violating its own stated rules, and it is doing so as a means to target specific individuals for ideological reasons. The victims include people like me, who relied in good faith on Twitter’s written assurances, as we used that platform to develop our professional operations and networks, to communicate with other users and the general public, to share information and opinions, and (in my case) to defend womens’ rights—until Twitter arbitrarily reneged. That’s why I’m suing.

I am not the only user who has been banned of late for either challenging gender-identity ideology more generally, or challenging the specific claims or behaviour of trans activists (particularly in their targeting of women). The trend should concern everyone—even those who don’t use Twitter, or who have no exposure to gender-identity controversies. The discussion that I have engaged in on Twitter constitutes political speech, as well as the simple reporting of facts, and relates to the emergence of new legislation in various jurisdictions that will have a profound effect on our society for decades to come. Even if you feel this doesn’t affect you and your family members now, it will in the future.

For instance, various governments in North America and Europe have passed laws that allow people to determine their own sex in a way that grants them unfettered access to women’s facilities, such as change rooms, transition houses, shelters, bathrooms and even jails. Sports federations and bodies, including the International Olympic Committee, have created policies allowing trans-identified males to compete against women, in the process ignoring widespread criticism from the public and from female athletes. And while much of the media has lined up behind this trend, in large part out of fear of being called transphobic, there are millions of ordinary, perfectly tolerant people who are deeply troubled by the way these sweeping new measures are being implemented.

In the UK, meetings and discussions have been held regularly to address concerns about proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. As the nature of these events serves to illustrate, the opposition to the new legislation doesn’t originate primarily with the sort of regressive bigots who exist in liberal caricature, but instead with committed feminists who are appalled by the lack of concern expressed for female spaces and safety, and who are seeing generations of hard work and activism rolled back. In British Columbia, where I live, violent threats and melodramatic appeals were aimed at shutting down an event organized by myself and other women to discuss gender identity and women’s rights at the Vancouver Public Library. Despite the presence of dozens of protesters outside the venue, the event sold out, and 300 people came to peacefully and respectfully discuss the issues at hand. These attendees—most of them ordinary men and women (many of them feminists and leftists)—are the furthest thing from bigots.

All I have ever done on Twitter is tell the truth about the science of sex and gender, and the way these new gender identity policies and legislation hurt girls and women. But, today, the truth is unpopular. It contradicts all those hashtags we’re supposed to use, the mantras we’re supposed to unquestioningly bleat, and the ever-more colourful shirts and buttons we’re supposed to wear to school and work. In this way, a small minority of the population has been able to seize veto power over much of the media.

Actually, it would be more accurate to describe this constituency as a minority within a minority—since most trans people presumably don’t endorse the often vicious de-platforming methods and violent threats used by the most militant activists.

I am just one person, Twitter is just one platform, and gender identity is just one issue. But my silencing is part of a larger problem by which small but dedicated activist cadres are defining the boundaries of discourse in a manner that effectively bans legitimate opposition to their own policy preferences. We are presented with a binary version of politics — left vs right/good vs bad — despite the fact that reality is much more complex than this. This sort of discourse alienates the broad majority. In the United States, a major 2018 survey project called Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape found that a vast majority of Americans don’t fit the categories of “left” or “right.” As Meghan Daum summarized, “researchers concluded that two-thirds make up what they call ‘the exhausted majority,’ a cohort containing ‘distinct groups of people with varying degrees of political understanding and activism’ that share ‘a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.’”

In other words, the world doesn’t look the way Twitter and the liberal media say it does. The fact someone wears a MAGA hat doesn’t necessarily make them a fascist, and the fact someone identifies as part of the LGBT community doesn’t necessarily make them progressive. The views now being enforced as gospel by Twitter—insofar as we can even infer what they are—seem to reflect a dogma that very few actual humans believe (even if we all often feel pressured to signal adherence to these dogmas). For example, most people in the world believe that biological sex is real, and that it is not possible to become the opposite sex via declaration. By purging non-compliant ideological views, Twitter is essentially curating a false reality on its social network.

All of this is justified on the basis that trans-identified people are extremely vulnerable. But this claim is exaggerated. Trans-identified people may suffer discrimination and violence, just as do women, Jews, Muslims and people of colour. But the popularized notion that people afflicted with gender dysphoria face a sort of daily holocaust of street violence is a lurid fiction. In my own country, Canada, there were seven reported instances of “homicides of trans and/or gender-diverse people” between January, 2008 and September, 2018. This data, collected by the Trans Murder Monitoring Project (TMMP), suggests a trans-victim homicide rate of 0.65 deaths/year within a Canadian trans population that is estimated to be about 200,000—or a murder rate of about 0.33 per 100,000 trans population. That figure is actually much lower than the overall Canadian homicide rate, which is typically about 1.6, or about five times the rate for trans victims.

While bias and media manipulation obviously are not confined to progressives—as anyone who follows Donald Trump on Twitter can attest—it is the ideologically fashionable left that now acts as gatekeeper on some of our most important communication media. I believe many liberals think they are doing good by mainstreaming certain ideologies and trying to silence opinions they believe are “harmful.” But it’s counterproductive.

In his interview with Harris, Dorsey said, “I don’t believe that we can afford to take a neutral stance anymore. I don’t believe that we should optimize for neutrality.” That’s a great social-justice slogan. But this principle apparently relates only to the most fashionable causes, as Twitter has taken a neutral stance on plenty of dishonest, nauseating, and harmful content posted on its platform. For instance, the company continues to allow pornography and prostitution accounts (search #GFE and you’ll find plenty) to operate with relative impunity (“adult” accounts are supposed to mark their content as “sensitive“ and may not post ads selling sex). The platform also allows users to post libel, or to post bizarre statements declaring penises to be “female”—and accusing those who disagree of being bigots and pedlers of hate speech.

Recently, actress Indya Moore tweeted that “if a woman has a penis, her penis is a biologically female penis.” Moore, a biologically male transwoman, also declared that “Cis people characterising gender variant traits as abnormal is synonymous to white people saying melanin is abnormal or melanated people saying that the absence of melanin is abnormal”—essentially smearing anyone who disagrees with the existence of a “female penis” as akin to a racist. I support Moore’s right to peddle such nonsense—even as we call it out for what it is. But I also hope readers will acknowledge how ludicrous it is for Twitter to permit—and even encourage—such delusions while banning users who channel what most reasonable people actually think.

For anyone who believes Twitter is on the leading edge of the fight against the patriarchy, consider that the company fought against anti-trafficking legislation in the United States, including changes to the Communications Decency Act, which would hold online platforms to greater account for ads and content that facilitate sex trafficking. Twitter fought against the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act, on the basis that such laws would harm “free speech.” Yet they are all too happy to suppress the free speech of users, like me, who aren’t interested in porn or escort services—but who just have a fetish for, you know, important political ideas and telling the truth.

My own case will be decided in court. And those interested can read about it here. (And yes, I am raising money, as the entire suit will be funded through donations.) This isn’t just about my Twitter account. It’s about a larger question: Do we want the truth? Or do we want a bubble full of comforting lies? I know what I prefer. And I hope the Jack Dorseys of the world will come to realize just how much is at stake.

Meghan Murphy is a writer based in Vancouver BC. Her website is Feminist Current.