Yair Rosenberg became an expert on neo-Nazis during the 2016 election largely thanks to the abuse he received from Donald Trump’s fans. He is Jewish, and he wrote in The New York Times that Trump’s fans “sent me threats, photoshopped me into gas chambers and hurled an uncreative array of Anti-Semitic slurs my way.” I am a Jew, and I also received similar treatment from Twitter’s collection of Nazis during the election. My profile picture is me in Senator Ben Nighthorse Cambpell’s office during my 8th grade trip to Washington D.C., and I saw younger me photoshopped into gas chambers and covered in bullet holes nearly every week late last summer. It was my introduction to this hateful group of losers known as the “alt-right,” and it was a genuinely unnerving experience.
Twitter is known as the premier place for harassment on the internet, and Yair Rosenberg decided to fight back with a bot built by one of his followers. Per Rosenberg:
Using a crowdsourced database of impersonator accounts, carefully curated by us to avoid any false positives, the bot patrolled Twitter and interjected whenever impostors tried to insinuate themselves into a discussion. Within days, our golem for the digital age had become a runaway success, garnering thousands of followers and numerous press write-ups. Most important, we received countless thank-yous from alerted would-be victims.
Soon after, the Nazis began mass-reporting the bot for harassment, and Twitter suspended the bot. The American Defense League’s cyber-team was able to get the bot reinstated, and Rosenberg and his team tweaked the bot to make sure it didn’t trip any of Twitter’s automatic safeguards. However, the Nazis kept coming in waves, and Twitter decided to defend their loyal customers. Per Rosenberg:
This month, Twitter suspended the bot again, and this time refused to revive it. The company’s justifications were both entirely accurate and utterly absurd. “A large number of people have blocked you in response to high volumes of untargeted, unsolicited, or duplicative content or engagements from your account,” we were informed. This was true; Impostor Buster had been blocked by many neo-Nazis. “A large number of spam complaints have been filed against you.” Yes, by neo-Nazis. “You send large numbers of unsolicited replies or mentions.” Yes, to neo-Nazis.
Twitter is functionally a Nazi sympathizer. A Jewish journalist received an avalanche of anti-Semitic hate, Rosenberg then built a tool to fight back against the Nazis, and Twitter took that tool from him because Nazis complained about it—yet they allow Nazis like Richard Spencer to spread hate unabated—so long as the threats aren’t too graphic or specific. As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer tweeted, “Twitter killed an anti-Nazi bot because it was bothering their valued customers, the Nazis.”
Twitter is a mess, and it starts at the very top. Jack Dorsey is not a full-time CEO (he spends more time building Square, the payments system), and this apathy trickles down throughout the product. There seems to be no long-term plan in place, and management simply reacts to a rolling thunder of screw-ups. Because these Nazis are largely keyboard warriors who don’t have anything better to do than spend all their time trolling people on Twitter, they are by definition, some of Twitter’s most active customers. People have been filing complaints against Nazis nonstop over the past couple of years, yet Twitter has only purged a small amount of Nazi accounts, while they continue to suspend other accounts for trolling these Nazis. The message is loud and clear: Twitter will side with whomever uses their product the most, even if they’re the descendants of one of the most notorious mass murderers mankind has ever known.
This is a perfect avatar for the failure of late-stage capitalism. Twitter has stapled their brand to literal Nazis, and this is not the first, nor the last article written to highlight that fact. They have taken tepid steps to address their status as the leading site for hate groups to prosper, and the ordeal around Rosenberg’s bot demonstrates that they will side with their power users over anyone. Taking their actions with Rosenberg’s bot to its logical conclusion, it seems as if Twitter would prefer to be in business and be the premier platform for Nazis, rather than go out of business and be known as anti-Nazi. When capitalism leads one of our most high-profile businesses to openly defend Nazis, perhaps it’s time to rethink what capitalism means in 2017.
Twitter is somehow both a wild success and an abject punchline of a business. They essentially became LinkedIn for journalists, and created the best breaking news product in history—yet they cannot make any money from these advances. Their CEO works only part time on the business, and this is a perfect example for their inability to profit and stop abuse on their platform. Until Jack Dorsey cares enough about Twitter to put someone in charge full-time, it will continue to be the half-assed operation it proves itself to be every single day. Twitter’s actions against Rosenberg’s bot seem to suggest that you cannot separate profit and abuse from Twitter’s business model, which means that management has tied Twitter’s struggling profits to the most hateful people in America.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.