Verbal Harassment of Government Buildings Now Violates Twitter Rules, Apparently

Author and sex worker Maggie McNeill was suspended from Twitter Tuesday for a hyperbolic comment about burning the White House down.


@Maggie_McNeill's message from Twitter

Author, activist, and sex worker Maggie McNeill has been suspended from Twitter for an obviously hyperbolic comment about harming the White House. Her offense? McNeill responded to a tweet saying furloughed government employees working without pay should go on strike with: "They should. And burn the White House down."

On Tuesday, McNeill (who has contributed to Reason) was informed by Twitter that she had violated its policy against "targeted harassment" and "abusive behavior" and would receive a one-week suspension.

"'Targeted harassment' of a government building of the most powerful Empire on Earth?' McNeill quipped when asked about the suspension. "I had no idea I was so formidable."

McNeill called Twitter's decision "stupid and hilarious at the same time."

The debacle calls to mind one that Reason found itself in a few years back, after a commenter's quite clearly facetious remark about running a federal judge through a woodchipper was deemed grounds for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate, demand Reason commenter data, and bar Reason staffers from talking about any of it.

Thankfully, Twitter can't suppress speech through state force. But increasing skittishness by it and other social platforms means that a whole lot of hyperbole, humor, sarcasm, and otherwise benign banter is being caught up in content-moderation filters.

If a growing cadre of conservative and liberal forces gets there way, any missteps by digital platofrms could lead to serious criminal charges and costly civil cases. So we can expect to see silly suspensions like this start to get worse before or if they ever get any better.

Perhaps now is a good time to follow podcaster and reporter Thaddeus Russell's advice: "Drop what you're doing and contribute whatever you can to alternative social media spaces, before it's too late."