I recently visited Ross Ulbricht in federal prison. This was my second visit to him. The first time he was in the Security Housing Unit and so we spoke through glass. He had been in that solitary unit because he had refused to do violence to another prisoner and so feared retaliation. This more recent time he had been moved to Tucson, so I made the pilgrimage to see him at last in person.
There face-to-face we spoke about the five years he has spent in a federal prison for creating the Silk Road, a decentralized marketplace which allowed buyers and sellers to freely transact through the USPS. Most of the things bought and sold were drugs, marijuana in particular.
I am an investor in cryptocurrency and marijuana, among other things, and so Ross and I talk about these nascent frontiers. Only on the edge of the map can we find new territory, after all. But you can go too far on the horizon and be punished. Ross and I talked about the dehumanizing conditions of federal prison and how it strips you of freedoms you take for granted. He said:
“Well, I have one freedom you don’t. I can tweet.”
Ross, who is serving two life sentences for creating a website after corrupt FBI agents spread lies about him, has 27,400 followers on Twitter. Over 100,000 people want President Trump to pardon him. I am one of them and have worked with his mother, Lyn, and other wealthy Trump supporters to encourage President Trump to do the right thing and commute Ross’s sentence. Ross, like me and Donald Trump, has been unfairly libeled by the #FakeNews. The very same people who targeted Trump in the Southern District also targeted Ross. You can read all about it on Ross’s website.
I would urge our President to pardon Ross on his favorite website—Twitter—but, I, too, am serving a life sentence, barred from participating in the public discussion. My businesses have been banned too. People who have defended me have been banned. Rather hilariously people suspected to be me have been banned. And unlike Ross there was no trial for me, no due process, no appeals, no Twitter lawyers.
While I would never compare my life sentence to Ross’s, we are similarly banned from being able to respond. Weirdly, Ross hasn’t been permitted to read Nick Bilton’s book American Kingpin, a libelous (and largely fake) account of his time running the Silk Road. (Interestingly Bilton has also targeted Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey with a fake account in his book, Hatching Twitter.)
Most recently I was smeared as a “white nationalist” by Verizon-owned Huffington Post. [2 GOP Lawmakers Host Chuck Johnson, Holocaust-Denying White Nationalist, By Andy Campbell, January 17, 2018]It doesn’t matter that I never held those views but I am apparently not permitted to meet members of Congress now lest it become a national news story. Without Twitter, I can’t reply.
My name has trended dozens of times on Twitter in the four years I have been in internal internet exile. I can never reply. Every day I am harassed on Twitter and I can’t even correct the fake things said about me.
Many government officials use Twitter, but I can’t reach out to them. I am barred from my First Amendment right to petition my government despite my considerable donations.
The Knight Foundation sued over Trump blocking people from his content—and won. “The president’s practice of blocking critics on Twitter is pernicious and unconstitutional, and we hope this ruling will bring it to an end,” said Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director. [Federal Court Rules that President Trump’s Blocking of Twitter Critics Violates First Amendment, Knight Columbia Institute, May 23, 2018 ]
Ah but what if the social media company—the public square—bans you? The Knight Institute is backed by far-left wing donors and the Koch brothers. [Knight First Amendment Institute Receives Grants Totaling $6.5 Million, February 26, 2018] So this is a question you might surprise they really don’t want you to ask.
I can’t even sue Twitter, thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—a ridiculously overbroad immunity law. (Most of the Communications Decency Act was struck down after it hilariously failed to achieve its objective of barring porn from the Internet). The Supreme Court and California law has expanded First Amendment protections considerably, especially if you are a private actor. Private corporations are also barred, thanks, in part, to antidiscrimination laws. Even in California malls I have more free speech rights than I do on self-described “free speech platform.”
Really? At what point is this not fraud?
I sued anyway knowing full well I could lose. For all Jack’s talk about how everyone has a right to Twitter his lawyers claimed that they could ban me for any reason or no reason at all. Twitter and I came to an agreement after I lost the first round and (at the time) couldn’t afford my appeal. I had made my point and won the argument and exposed the Silicon Valley censorship. I predicted when I was suspended that I would be a Pringle of censorship—once they popped, they wouldn’t stop.
They didn’t stop and now there are now new lawsuits. I will do everything I can to help others sue.
As was the case with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious minorities the types of people suing will necessarily be those which are controversial. Jared Taylor—who, unlike me, calls himself a white advocate but still my friend and yes, that is possible—has sued and his case is advancing up and down the California state court. You can hear him discuss the stakes here. A Canadian feminist is suing because Twitter also banned her, apparently at the behest of the Transgender lobby. [Meghan Murphy’s war on Twitter, by Julie Bindel, Spectator, February 14, 2019]
Twitter began instituting harsher policies to deal with dissent and now routinely works with third party groups, in one case funded by foreign governments, to do the crackdown for them.
Twitter’s former VP of user services Tina Bhatnagar has hired hundreds of Indians (especially H-1B visa holders) to content-moderate (read: censor Americans).
Here’s how Fortune described her role as the platform’s censor:
By the time Dorsey’s tenure got under way, Twitter had gotten a better handle on some of the verbal pollution plaguing the service. The company’s anti-abuse operations had been taken over by Tina Bhatnagar, a no-nonsense veteran of Salesforce who had little patience for free-speech hand-wringing. Bhatnagar dramatically increased the number of outsourced support agents working for the company and was able to reduce the average response time on abuse-report tickets to just hours, though some felt the process became too much of a numbers game. “She was more like, ‘Just f---ing suspend them,'” says a source who worked closely with her. If much of the company was guided by Justice Brandeis’s words, Bhatnagar represented Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quote about obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”
“Did We Create This Monster?” How Twitter Turned Toxic, By Austin Carr and Harry McCracken, April 4, 2018
Our undercover videos show Twitter engineers discussing "shadow banning" at length, how it gives them "ultimate control," that they will "ban a way of talking," and how they target your supporters specifically. pic.twitter.com/f5MA2RrPq7— James O'Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) July 26, 2018
Who could blame them though?
If an American president said he was going to crack down on legal and illegal immigrants don’t you think an immigrant-outsourced worker would want to crack down on his supporters? Maybe that immigrant censor would crack down a little more harshly on Trump supporters. Just to even the score a little.
Tout comprendre c’est tout pardoner. Being off of Twitter has certainly helped me with empathy.
I’ve come to believe that Twitter’s main problem is how it encourages snitching and bitching. The big mistake of George Orwell’s 1984 is that it isn’t Big Brother censoring us; it’s all the little brothers reporting us to Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council. Silicon Valley’s social credit score system has no place for mercy or forgiveness.
And given that so many Silicon Valley people want to live for forever, well, allow me to quote from 1984. “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Imagine a world of lifetime bannings when you live for forever.
Tina Bhatnagar worked for Indian-born Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s immigrant general counsel. Gadde grew up on the Gulf Coast of Texas where— as she tells it—her father had to go to the local Klan and beg for permission sell insurance door to door. [Twitter's top female exec on discrimination and overcoming adversity, by Shalene Gupta, Fortune, October 24, 2014] I find it a hard story to believe but then I found much of what she has to say dishonest. Even if the Klan story is true, she’s probably too biased to head up an organization where a culture of free speech is important. She’s definitely a pro-Hillary, anti-Trump shill.
This dishonesty came across pretty clear in her discussion with independent journalist Tim Pool.
I know Tim. We don’t get along politically but he is part of a clear American tradition to which I once aspired: the independent journalist who calls it as he sees it. He asks good questions but he misses some obvious ones. Hey, nobody’s perfect. Maybe you can ask Gadde and Dorsey these questions yourself.
I’d ask Jack and Vijaya:
(The Wall Street Journal reported that CAIR lobbied Twitter to ban American Jew Laura Loomer for criticizing Ilhan Omar, an American politician. [Facebook, Twitter Turn to Right-Leaning Groups to Help Referee Political Speech, by Kirsten Grind and John D. McKinnon, January 8, 2019] Why can an organization which has receives millions of dollars from a foreign government lobby you to remove an American citizen who was criticizing an American politician?
The ADL was once fined $10.5m in what was then the largest judgement ever awarded in a Colorado trial. The fine stemmed from a dispute between neighbors where the Jewish neighbors falsely alleged that the gentile neighbors were conspiring against them. The Jewish neighbors even electronically surveilled the neighbors’ house using a technology that later became illegal but the ADL still took their side. [Judge fines ADL $10.5 million in Colorado defamation suit, Jewish News Of Northern California, May 12, 2000]
(The ADL was also implicated in spying for J. Edgar Hoover on Martin Luther King, Jr., a decision led one of its members—Henry Schwarzschild—to resign in protest. “They [ADL] thought King was sort of a loose cannon. He was a Baptist preacher and nobody could be quite sure what he would do next,” Schwarzchild told San Francisco Weekly in April 28, 1993. “The ADL was very anxious about having an unguided missile out there.”
There were other “unguided missiles out there”. The San Francisco Police Department even raided the ADL’s offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles and found evidence of their illegal surveillance on over a 1000 different groups. The ADL kept filed on anti-apartheid organizations, critics of Israel, the Oakland Education Association, ILWU Local 10, the NAACP, among many others. “The ADL provided secret files to police agencies when these police agencies were prevented by law from collecting the files themselves,” reported Counterpunch after it settled a lawsuit against the ADL for its illegal surveillance. [The ADL Spying Case Is Over, But The Struggle Continues, by Jeffrey Blankfort, February 25, 2002]
Fortunately Pool did ask Twitter Vijaya Gadde why I was suspended.
That Tweet still hasn’t been removed:
Here’s what actually happened. I was folding laundry and tweeting with a black friend about doing a crowdfunded investigation into black activist DeRay Mckesson (remember him?). My black friend asked what would it cost to “take out” or investigate him.
I replied that it would cost about $500 to “take out” Mckesson.
I have never been allowed to say what I was planning to do: to show all the instances of how a young DeRay Mckesson was very pro-white when he was at the very white Bowdoin College. But I never got to do this. I was suspended by Twitter for daring to do journalism and the #FakeNews celebrated allowing Mckesson to smear me online.
Neither Jack nor Gadde had an answer to Pool for my suspension, which was weird because Gadde was cced on emails about my suspension and even wrote about it herself.
I wasn’t breaking Twitter’s rules. Here’s how CNET.com recounts it:
In a Jan. 16 email, Bhatnagar, the VP of user services, told Dorsey and other executives that the 2015 suspension of right-wing troll Chuck Johnson could provide a precedent for suspending [MILO] Yiannopoulos.
“Per our new enforcement policies, [Yiannopoulos] is consistently in violation but never of direct violence (which is what we perma suspend for). So if we can take the stance to debadge, then why can't we take the stance to perma-suspend?” Bhatnagar wrote. “We perma suspended Chuck Johnson even though it wasn't direct violent threats. It was just a call that the policy team made. He is finding loopholes in policy which is almost worse than the people who blatantly have violations.”
In a subsequent email, Gadde, the general counsel, also referenced a May 25, 2015, email from Twitter's then-CEO Dick Costolo to the company’s operations team, which suggested the decision to make Johnson’s suspension permanent was made at Costolo’s discretion. "As for Chuck Johnson - Dick made that decision," Gadde wrote before copying the text of Costolo's email to the chain. [Emphasis added].
“To be very clear, I don't want to find out we unsuspended this Chuck Johnson troll later on,” Costolo wrote. “That account is permanently suspended and nobody for no reason may reactivate it. Period. The press is reporting it as temporarily suspended. It is not temporarily suspended it is permanently suspended. I'm not sure why they're mistakenly reporting it as temporarily suspended but that's not the case here...don't let anybody unsuspend it.”
Internal Emails Show Twitter Struggled To Interpret Its Own Verification Rules While Hunting Trolls, by Charlie Warzel, December 19, 2017
“Dick made that decision.” So Jack’s predecessor made the call. Not Jack. Can Jack undo it? Could Jack pardon people like me?
Jack says they’re working on it. Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath. He says he supports a road to redemption. Does he? Who will he start with? I’ll volunteer to be the first.
I’ve asked Joe Rogan for a chance to clear the air with Jack Dorsey. I was once a guest on Joe’s podcast(see below)–a fact he wants you to forget despite our many, many mutual friends—so I have emailed him periodically.
No luck. He says he wants that road to redemption for people but I guess he’s too busy to reply.
I’m honestly grateful he continues to host honest conversations. I’m just a little bummed I’m excluded from that conversation. What is the host of Fear Factor so afraid of anyway?
Like Peter Thiel in his Count of Monte Cristo-style years-long plot against Gawker, I may yet have my revenge—every banning makes government regulation that much more likely—but I’d prefer a more peaceful outcome. I believe in peace. It precisely my hatred of violence and my love of liberty that led me to build a company crowdfunding the legal defenses of controversial people—only to be no platformed by Stripe after Jared Holt, running a secret Twitter account called @DePlatformHate threatened Stripe’s General Counsel. Holt, you might recall, has been celebrated for his harassment campaign against Alex Jones. [Meet Jared Holt, the guy who's getting Alex Jones kicked off the internet, by Amanda Marcotte, Salon, August 8, 2018] Cartels always do violence against those new entrants.
Like the ACLU before me, when it defended the rights of neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, or my mentor Alan Dershowitz, who has fought for the rights of all, I consistently made the point then that we should defend the rights of all until we find ourselves alone. I went unheard.
I supported Donald Trump because he rightly criticized these stupid wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. I hate war. Trump has embraced America’s ally, Saudi Arabia, and helped bring Kim Jong Un into the modern age. I have high hopes for him. He’s a flawed man but then again so am I.
That’s one thing I’ve learned from Twitter and my exile from it. We all have our flaws and some of them are simply the flip side of what makes us great.
It’s been four years now. I was 26 when I was banned on Twitter. I got a house with my new wife, got a dog and got separated from said wife.
The world moved on. Trump was elected. Then the Republicans lost the House in large part because they did nothing for the many Trump supporters being censored online.
Are we really supposed to ignore that then-Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy scheduled the Twitter hearings for the same time as the Kavanaugh hearings? Or that his son Connor—an African-American studies major—works for a tech venture fund?
It’s hard to get the vote out if you are shadowbanned or deboosted, you dumb Republicans.
McCarthy wouldn’t know, of course, because it was private citizens like me who were working overtime to help Trump win while McCarthy wrote him off.
The most important thing to happen to me was my daughter’s birth. It’s a cliché to say it but her birth changed everything for me. Soon I had to worry about all kinds of impending threats and think on a larger time scale.
As a father, I worry deeply about the violence in our society. The hate I see exhibited on Twitter worries me, especially knowing that I participated in the coarsening of our national conversation. It felt so good to rage all day on Twitter.
Now I work to make the world a better place in my own private way. I tithe. I donate to charities. I go to church. I volunteer for unobjectionable causes. I prefer to do everything privately these days lest I get unwanted attention by the #FakeNews.
But it doesn’t matter where we choose to engage with tech, does it? I’m still a bad person because of some intemperate things I tweeted years ago before I grew up. I’m on a naughty list and there’s no one I can pay, nothing I can say, and nothing I can do to get off of it.
Even the Chinese Communist social credit system has a mechanism for forgiveness. But not America’s.
My father told me recently that when he was a kid, they used to joke about something going on your “permanent record.”
We don’t joke about that anymore.
Mine is the first generation to live its most hormonal years in the panopticon.
I can’t change that, but I can change how I react to it.
I have shut down everything public facing. My public companies are shuttered. I deleted all of my social media.
I must say I am happier, healthier, and way, way more productive. Living with that daily hit of dopamine and cortisol was poisoning me.
Speaking of kids, the most damning thing about the tech companies is how its executives don’t allow their kids to use their products.[ Silicon Valley parents are raising their kids tech-free — and it should be a red flag, by Chris Weller, Business Insider, February 18, 2018
But what about the rest of us?
I have avoided any public photos of my two-year old daughter because I want her to decide for herself these questions of social media on her own.
But she has still become a victim of the no platforming. She was recently banned from Chase Bank during its massive purge of conservative Trump supporters.[Financial Blacklisting: Chase Bank De-Platforms Rebel Media Host, NewsBusters, February 20, 2019] (Apparently they found out about her Trump onesie!) Her college funds had to be put into another bank account and her mother and I both had to move all my company and personal accounts elsewhere.
I wonder: Are the sins of the father to be visited upon the daughter too?
Can't load tweet https://twitter.com/rezaaslan/status/1086806539552284672?lang=en: Sorry, that page does not exist
And what kind of people live their lives online making other rich with their vanity, wrath, sloth?
I’ve read all of philosopher Rene Girard—one of the best things about being banned from Twitter is all the reading I get to do—and I’ve come to believe that, unless we figure out a way to deal with this problem of permanent bans, there will be real violence.
“I don’t believe a permanent ban promotes health,” Dorsey on Rogan’s podcast. I agree. Let’s talk face to face, Jack.
Like Jack I have a few white hairs in my unkempt beard. I like to meditate and pray.
But it’s time to give me back my Twitter account. How might I use Twitter differently? I suspect I won’t ever tweet again. It’s too toxic a place and I have learned that’s virtue in keeping your own counsel. I do miss my DMs, though, and all the crazies that slid into them.
You claimed the other day that you don’t read those DMs, Jack, but we know you do. Your own employees told us they did!
We could talk about that lie. Or we don’t have to. We could talk about freeing Ross Ulbricht and what its affect would have on bitcoin. We could talk about financial payment processing, or even Burma post-junta. I believe in engaging countries that are coming out of darkness too.
It doesn’t really matter so long as we start talking more and fighting and arguing less. I believe in jaw jaw over war war.
I forgive you for silencing me. I hope I can be forgiven for at times deserving it.
I know you’re fond of saying Twitter is a global company but there’s nothing more American than giving people second chances.
You got your second chance to head up Twitter. I hope Ross gets his and that I get mine.
Charles Johnson [Email him] is an entrepreneur and investor.