Yes, You Can Get Kicked Off Twitter for Saying 'Learn To Code'—Even If It's Not Harassment
"I'm more confused than angry about all of this."
Chuck Ross, a reporter at The Daily Caller, was recently suspended from Twitter after making a "learn to code" meta joke—an incident that calls into question the company's earlier claims regarding the problematic quip.
A few weeks ago, The Wrap's Jon Levine reported that a "person in the know" had told him tweeting "learn to code" at a laid-off journalist would be considered a violation of the platform's terms of service, and could result in a ban. Twitter swiftly clarified that the phrase "learn to code" itself would not be considered harassment unless directed at specific individuals as part of a targeted campaign. The company routinely takes action against such kinds of communication, whether or not they are insinuations that coding experience is a better path to financial stability than journalism.
"Twitter is responding to a targeted harassment campaign against specific individuals—a policy that's long been against the Twitter Rules," a spokesperson told me.
On Sunday afternoon, Ross sent a "learn to code" tweet that should not have been considered harassment under the above definition. The tweet is screenshotted here. A writer for State Scoop had quoted former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, as saying that a 34-year-old geologist who works for ExxonMobil should "be sharpening their other skills." Ross quote-tweeted the statement, adding "learn to code." This was clearly a joke directed at the theoretical geologist, not the State Scoop writer.
Nevertheless, Ross was suspended by Twitter around 10:00 p.m., shortly after President Trump had retweeted one of his articles.
"I have no evidence of course that this was a causal event, but I can imagine that maybe one of the numerous trolls who jumped into my Twitter feed referred me to Twitter," Ross told me in an interview.
Ross appealed the suspension, and Twitter told him it would be several days before a decision was made. Preferring not to wait that long, Ross opted to comply with Twitter's request that he delete the tweet. He was then placed under lockdown for 12 hours, during which he couldn't tweet but could read and send direct messages and browse other people's tweets.
Twitter did not immediately respond to my request for comment about what happened. Ross told me that a representative for the company confirmed to him that they are looking into the matter.
"I'm more confused than angry about all of this," Ross said.
I'm also confused, since Twitter's actions here contradict their contention that tweeting "learn to code" is only verboten in certain situations. And this is not the first such contradiction: A Washington Examiner writer was similarly suspended for a learn-to-code tweet that had nothing to do with harassment. (Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently admitted that the company may have been "too aggressive" about policing this specific phrase.)
I respect Twitter's right as a private company to set its own rules for what kinds of speech are allowed. But the platform is ostensibly committed to free speech, and it's thus a tad concerning that making an obvious joke about the employment prospects of imaginary people is now being treated as harassment. At the very least, I would like to know more about how these decisions are made.