The morning of March 2, the powers that be at Twitter robbed me of my intellectual property and community with little explanation and no avenue for redress.
It started with a diss.
I don’t remember the topic that brought me the misfortune of having dog whistle racism in my Twitter mentions, but I do remember my response: “typical white lady.” Identifying anti-black sentiments and behavior from white people is nothing new to me as a black woman. So, feeling I’d accurately identified one of the 53 percent, I muted her and went to bed.
You can imagine my surprise to wake up and find that I was in “timeout”—Twitter’s new timeout policy that had been implemented March 1, 2017. It’s almost like the sunken place without the hypnosis and icky brain surgery. I was instructed to delete my offending tweet and wait 12 hours to have access to my account restored.
Twitter’s algorithm decided that my tweet was racist, and since tweeting hate speech is against Twitter’s rules, I apparently violated their conduct by calling an actual white lady a “typical white lady.” At no point in the process did Twitter present me with a way to dispute these findings—because algorithms are perfect, right? We’ve never found instances of algorithms actually protecting hate speech, right? There’s no way a company that possibly fudges its numbers to obscure the fact that it’s still overwhelmingly white would be capable of creating an algorithm that targets black people while allowing overt hate speech from white people to remain on their platform days after being reported multiple times, right?
(I know for a fact that the above tweet has been reported for hate speech at least twice, yet at the time of this post, it’s still up over a week later.)
There was no point being salty, since there was no way to actually right the wrong, so I moved on.
It progressed with another diss.
Now, I am a fan of exercising discernment, but I also occasionally enjoy delivering a witty comeback. Life is a trip, and like everyone else, I get my moments of joy where I can find them. This unfortunate moment was brought to me by yet another white person (anyone else noticing a pattern here?) who took it upon him- or herself to tell me they’d rather stop breathing than read my tweets. Of course, I replied, “Then why are you still breathing?” I mean, come on—that one is a gimme. It was right there.
I chuckled, blocked, went to bed and woke up to find myself back in timeout. This time, Twitter’s algorithm determined that I had promoted violence. If you find that confusing, know that you are not alone. Once again, I was instructed to delete the offending tweet and wait 12 hours to regain full access to my account. As before, the entire process was automated. There was no way for me to dispute or even question the algorithm’s conclusion, and I’m almost certain no actual human beings were involved at any point.
Now, I am not a paying customer of Twitter. The vast majority of Twitter users are not paying customers. Twitter is free, which means users are the product whose data is mined for profit, and Twitter has no intention of interacting with us like customers because we are simply a product that occasionally malfunctions. Bugs that need to be debugged. Which brings me to my suspension.
I do not know what I did.
There was no exchange with a racist white person. There was no witty comeback tweet. My account was suspended on March 2, 2018, and I still cannot get Twitter to tell me which tweet violated the rules. The only response I’ve received from Twitter is the automated one.
I am but a smudge on Twitter’s product that has been wiped clean. My entire account is gone. No more favorites, followers or tweets. There’s just one problem, though: Twitter does not own my tweets.
While Twitter users are the product, tweets are owned by those who created them. Twitter’s own terms of service recognize that rights to any content are retained by the user, yet there was no way for me to download my own archive once Twitter suspended my account. When I tried to “appeal” and ask Twitter to hand over my archive, I received the same automated message as before.
My content was taken from me without my permission, and there was nothing I could do about it. Over 530,000 tweets spanning 10 years, gone in the blink of an eye. What makes it worse is that I know I’m not the only person this has happened to because it happened to two other people I followed.
Black Twitter is the lifeblood of Twitter. There is no Twitter without Black Twitter, but black people are not protected by Twitter’s anti-abuse policies. Instead, we’re targeted by Twitter’s biased algorithms, and then Twitter steals our stuff. They did it to me; they can do it to you, too.