If you’re reading this because you saw a tweet from me announcing that my new blog post was up – and that weekly reminder is pretty much all I use Twitter for these days – you’ve most likely noticed that that website has been experiencing…some issues of late. By which I mean, of course, that it’s been taken over by a rogue billionaire with ever-more-obvious fascist leanings, setting policies affecting millions of users according to what appear to be his own personal whims. Reporters who’ve covered him have had their accounts suspended. People who’ve actively spread disinformation and promoted fascist political ideals have had their accounts reinstated. Employees – the few that remain after purges of critical operational personnel – have been asked to work hours so long that they’re required to sleep at Twitter’s offices. The company’s fall has been cartoonishly fast, the villainy behind it ridiculously blatant – it’s like a Simpsons episode on the subject, if Montgomery Burns’ fortune stemmed from his father’s emerald mines.
Now, the counterargument goes that the billionaire in question has every right to do with his company, acquired with his own funds, as he pleases. And since he’s telling us what policies he wants to implement, and what the motivations are behind them, we’re free to continue using the site if and however we choose. However, in at least one case, the motivation behind a new Twitter policy is blatantly untrue.
And I can prove it. Or at least, I can provide highly limited anecdotal evidence to suggest it.
You see, one of the delightful things the new management team has been up to is purging accounts. While it seems like much of this purging has been politically motivated – or simply directed at anybody who tweets so much as “boo” to Elon Musk – there are stated parameters for who’s being removed from Twitter that seem commonsensical on the surface. Remove accounts that are obviously fake. Accounts set up under a false identity or other false pretenses. Accounts that have been inactive for a long period of time. If removing bots, malware, and other bad actors is indeed a goal, these policies would make a measure of sense.
Last year, I related the tale of poor Rapture Boy, a fictitious character I created back in 2011 to mock religious fundamentalists in general, and specifically the followers of Harold Camping, who were making nuisances of themselves at the time proclaiming that the rapture was at hand. For a few months in 2011, I live-tweeted my hero’s misadventures as he attempted, first to ascend to heaven, then to try and head off his damnation and the destruction of the planet. My last tweet from that account occurred at midnight on October 21, when I killed off the character. (He live tweeted his death. At the hands of space aliens. Who were trying to trigger the Mayan Apocalypse. Hey, I never said it was Shakespeare.) The account has lain dormant ever since.
So, here is a Twitter account, silent for the past eleven years. It only has 22 followers remaining (not that it had a tremendous amount to begin with). It’s blatantly fake. It probably never should have existed in the first place – and according to the new, official policies, it should have been long gone. And yet, even as reputable journalists and activists are being purged left and right, @RaptureBoy2011 is still there, untouched, waiting for the curious to discover it.
Now, it could simply be a matter of the Powers That Be having a host of other things on their mind. They might not have gotten around to my account yet. But there’s another detail about poor old Rapture Boy’s account that’s probably relevant here – namely, the three accounts he was following when he “died.” They were all religious accounts, focused on end times prophesy, and therefore of a decidedly conservative bent. Anybody attempting to “datamine” from this account, and try and guess the account-holder’s politics, would assume he was a religious conservative himself, and market to him accordingly. And I’m pretty sure this has happened; I created that account with my own email address, and I get regular emails inviting me to enroll in online classes at Liberty University (the place founded by Jerry Fallwell), and I can think of no other reason why those folks would target a left-leaning New York theatre person.
So, here is this twitter account, which according the rules should have been removed – assuming those rules were applied fairly – which has not been removed. And in the absence of another explanation, it’s hard not to assume that this is part of a larger double-standard, a concerted effort to bend over backwards for conservatives. (Even imaginary ones. Who fight animated dinosaur skeletons. It was a fun account to write.)
I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do about this, other than to call out Twitter’s current leadership on their hypocrisy. So if you don’t see a “new blog post is up” reminder from me next week, now you know why!