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Meet the New Boss…Same as the Old Boss
Scott Ritter on his most recent suspension from Twitter
Four words, typed out by the new owner of Twitter, Elon Musk, at 11:49 PM on October 27, sent Twitter and the rest of the world into a frenzy. After much speculation about whether the enigmatic CEO of Tesla and SpaceX would follow through on his pledge to buy Twitter for $44 billion, Musk pulled the trigger.
“The reason I acquired Twitter,” Musk wrote earlier in the day, at 9:08 AM, in a message to advertisers, “is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.”
“That said,” Musk continued, “Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences! In addition to adhering to the laws of the land, our platform must be warm and welcoming to all…”
There is no more critical issue in these days than that of war and peace. In this regard, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine stands out as representing the greatest threat to international peace and security, including the potential for nuclear conflict.
I have been engaged on the struggle between Russia on the one hand and Ukraine and its NATO allies on the other since before the Russian invasion of February 24. I have provided objective analysis of extremely complex matters, using a variety of outlets, including Twitter.
Back on April 5, at 9:42 PM, I sent out a tweet containing the following passage: “The Ukrainian National Police committed numerous crimes against humanity in Bucha.”
I based this conclusion on three primary sources, which included a videotape of a Ukrainian official warning the citizens of Bucha that a “cleansing operation” was going to be conducted in Bucha, and that the citizens should remain indoors and not to panic, an article which appeared in an official Ukrainian government website, LB.ua, entitled “Special forces regiment ‘SAFARI’ began to clear Bucha of saboteurs and accomplices of Russia,” which declared that “Special forces began clearing the liberated, by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, city of Bucha of the Kiev region from saboteurs and accomplices of Russian troops,” and video which purported to show members of the Safari Regiment shooting civilians who were not wearing the blue distinguishing armbands signifying loyalty to the Ukrainian cause.
The next morning, April 6, at 11:57 AM, I received an email from Twitter Support, notifying me that my account “had been suspended for violating Twitter Rules.” Specifically, I was accused of violating rules against abuse and harassment. “You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone or incite other people to do so. This includes wishing or hoping that someone experiences physical harm.”
I followed the procedures to appeal the suspension, citing the evidence I had drawn upon in drafting the tweet. That night, at 11:54 PM, I received an email from Twitter Support notifying me that “After further review, we have unsuspended your account as it does not appear to be in violation of the Twitter Rules.”
Three days later, on April 9, Twitter again moved against me, this time permanently suspending my account, this time for a tweet—also mentioning Bucha and challenging the official narrative—that had been sent three days prior to the tweet that had brought about my original suspension.
Once again, I appealed, pointing out that Twitter had already determined that by questioning the official narrative regarding Bucha, I had violated no rules. Twitter Support replied to my appeal, noting that “it looks like this is connected with your original case, so we’ve added it to that first report. We’ll continue our review with this information. If you have more details you think we should know, please respond to this email to send them our way. We appreciate your help!”
Twitter never again responded; my account was permanently banned.
When, on Friday morning, October 28, I read that Elon Musk had bought Twitter, I returned to the social media platform using my real name and photograph and tweeted out a “test” of the Twitter “system” to see if, indeed, Elon Musk had set “the bird” free.
“I’m back,” I wrote. “Test, test, test. Bucha was a war crime. Ukraine did it. Test, test, test.”
In the space set aside for me to write biographical information, I wrote “This account is in open violation of Twitter rules prohibiting banned persons from making new accounts. Free speech is everything.”
At 2:18 PM on October 28, Musk tweeted “Twitter will be forming a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints. No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before the that council convenes.”
The bird, it seemed, was still in its cage.
Then, at 5:21 PM, Musk tweeted “Anyone suspended for minor & dubious reasons will be freed from Twitter jail.”
So far, so good, I thought. After all, this was the man who had famously announced that “I am a free speech absolutist.” Maybe the bird had been freed after all.
Then, at 8:14 PM, the hammer fell. “To be super clear,” Musk tweeted, “we have not made any changes to Twitter’s content moderation policies.”
This fact became evident around 10:00 the next morning when, while I was typing out a tweet, my Twitter page suddenly transformed into an announcement from my old friends at Twitter Support that my account had been suspended.
I had been expecting to be called out for making a new account in violation of Twitter policy, which prohibits anyone who has been permanently suspended from doing so. I was surprised, however, to discover that the Twitter police had identified my “test” tweet as the culprit, once again accusing me of violating rules against abuse and harassment.
Musk was right—Twitter was just as oppressive under the “free speech absolutist” as it had been under l'ancien regime.
I took to Telegram to announce the news that I had, yet again, been banned from Twitter. “Some things never change,” I wrote. “The western narrative regarding Bucha is not to be questioned. Meet the new boss…same as the old boss.”
My suspension was not permanent, but rather of the 12-hour variety—but only if I admitted my guilt and deleted the offending tweet.
Innocent men should not be compelled to plead guilty, ever.
I had committed no offense, and therefore I would not plead guilty. Instead, I appealed the suspension, reiterating the same defense used previously—no violation of the rules had taken place, something the Twitter support staff had previously acknowledged.
Many people have taken umbrage over my criticism of Elon Musk over Twitter suspending my account, noting—correctly—that Elon Musk hasn’t had time to implement the kind of meaningful changes he has promised, and that, in all fairness to Musk, he had noted that there had been no changes in Twitter’s content moderation policies. In short, the same dubious reasons for my suspension in April were considered valid reasons for a similar suspension over similar content today.
I disagree. When one claims to be a “free speech absolutist” in the United States, then one is speaking about a constitutional right enshrined in that document’s First Amendment. If indeed “free speech” is “absolute,” meaning it is a protected right under the Constitution, then there can be no “timeout” when it comes to its application.
The suppression of free speech is inherently detrimental to American democracy. The tools of suppression come in many forms, including malign manipulation of so-called “rules.” Case in point—Diane Sare. Despite qualifying to be on the ballot as a candidate for Senator for the State of New York, she is being excluded from participating in the only debate being conducted by the candidates for that seat. The reasoning behind this exclusion—that Diane failed to qualify for the debate because she did not garner at least 15% support in the three polls used by the organizers as a litmus test for participation—is mooted by the fact that none of the cited polls had listed her as an option.
Diane was put in “debate jail,” where she waited to see if public pressure to include her could somehow succeed in placing her on the debate stage. To date, it has not. And while Diane will protest this effort to silence her voice by holding a rally on the campus of Union College, at the intersection of Terrace and Nott Streets in Schenectady, NY, at 6.30 PM on Sunday, October 30, the fact is her voice will not be heard on the same stage as the other two candidates for US Senate. This is an insult to the citizens of New York, who will be denied the opportunity of listening to Diane Sare on the same stage as Chuck Shumer and Lee Zeldon, the Democratic and Republican party candidates, respectively, even though 66,000 of them signed the petition qualifying her name to be placed on the ballot.
Sunday night is the decisive moment in the race for this critical Senate seat—New Yorkers are going to be able to compare the performances of two of the three qualified candidates for Senate. One cannot speak of genuine representative government if qualified candidates are deliberately excluded from participating in the sole venue where voters get to make side by side comparisons of how the candidates comport themselves under pressure. By excluding Diane from the debate, Spectrum News is all but killing her candidacy. That is not democracy, nor is it free speech.
This is the kind of behavior one would expect from a third world dictatorship, and yet it is happening right here in the US, right now.
The damage done to New York democracy by keeping Diane off the debate stage is impossible to quantify.
If Elon Musk is going to live up to the symbology of “freeing the bird” and practice what he preached when it comes to actual free speech, then he is going to have to suspend Twitter’s current content monitoring practices and procedures. This is the real “test” that I have put before him and his new company. Every hour in every day that goes by with Twitter “jail” being filled with persons whose only “sin” was to speak his or her mind about topics of some controversy.
The consequences of denying someone access to a platform critical for the effective communication if ideas, whether it be the Spectrum debate stage, or Twitter, is to silence the affected voices at a time when they need to be heard the most.
Do better, Elon.
Free the bird for real this time, the sooner, the better.