Longtime BU antagonist and inveterate racist demagogue Robert Stacy McCain has been permanently banned from Twitter for abuse and harassment. Given his penchant for doxing and smearing political opponents, this development was as inevitable as the sunrise, but it has predictably spawned angry reactions and denialism from right wing Twitter users. Denouncing the social media service, fans of McCain have spent the last several days flooding a #freestacy hashtag, threatening to boycott advertisers, and ranting about censorship in blogs.
A former reporter and editor for the right wing Washington Times, McCain was best-known for fawning coverage of neo-Confederates and white supremacists. He left the newspaper in 2007 after an argument with a fellow editor over the firing of Fran Coombs, who was also an unapologetic racist. McCain’s habit of launching into bigoted diatribes in the presence of co-workers was also reportedly a factor in the dispute.
McCain slid onto our radar here at BU during 2012 when he became a key outlet for goofball conspiracy theories about Brett Kimberlin. Thereafter, he became a constant thorn in the side of several friends of this writer, many of whom left Twitter altogether or reduced their interactions due to the constant troll-swarms that McCain would stir up against liberals who drew his ire by questioning his bizarre narratives. During the time that I wrote here under a pseudonym, McCain returned his attention to those friends in an attempt to credit them with my work, digging up personal information and publishing the details in his blog in a misdirected, vengeful effort to shame and humiliate people he wrongly believed to be writing my stories. Between 2012 and 2015, McCain’s victims filed probably hundreds of reports with Twitter’s Safety Department in an effort to have him banned, or at least chided, for blatant violations of the rules against targeted harassment, but without success.
Four months before losing his job as Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo admitted that such failures were responsible for the flight of core users from the platform “by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.” In an example of the ‘free market’ speaking, Twitter’s stock price plummeted as the company’s growth slowed. The service had developed a terrible reputation for enabling and ignoring abuse, such as fake profiles, death threats, rape threats, ‘revenge porn,’ cyberstalking, and worse, all scaring off potential advertisers. In an effort to clean up the company’s image, earlier this month Twitter announced a new Trust and Safety Council that included several online civil society organizations. Predictably, conservatives and libertarians immediately hated the whole idea, prophesying that it would mean the oppression of right wing voices by liberals and feminists — predictions that have seemingly been fulfilled with McCain’s permanent banning after years of getting away with everything short of actual murder.
What finally seems to have ended McCain’s reign of terror was a series of rants he launched against Anita Sarkeesian, a member of the Trust and Safety Council who was already the focus of years’ worth of deranged attacks and conspiracy theories for having opinions about the portrayal of women in video games. Channeling the misogyny of so-called ‘Men’s Rights Activists,’ McCain’s attacks spurred another round of violent threats against Sarkeesian, prompting his suspension. When McCain switched to his backup account without changing his behavior, it was also suspended.
Although we do wonder what took so long, those of us who’ve been on the wrong end of his bad behavior are relieved to see McCain receive his comeuppance at last. Our only complaint is that it took McCain sliming someone on a Twitter board for the service to finally follow through on what should have been a slam-dunk in 2012. But those who excuse McCain’s bad behavior as ‘free speech’ — or rather, speech that they believe should be free of consequences — are raging in a #FreeStacy hashtag. This moment is deeply ironic: some of the same people who condemned, doxed, harassed, and threatened #StopRush Twitter users for their boycott talk against Limbaugh’s advertisers in 2012 are now threatening to boycott companies that pay for promoted tweets. Of course, McCain himself was one of those people.
Meanwhile, a chorus of blogs is screeching about censorship. Libertarians are concern-trolling at Reason.com and decrying an “Orwellian nightmare” at TheWeek.com. Jeff Dunetz, who is himself one of the most despicable attack dogs and disgusting narcissists in the wingnutosphere, has reprinted an ‘open letter‘ to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey from Ali Akbar, McCain’s former employer, whining about the absence of conservative (read: rabidly right wing) groups on the Trust and Safety Council.
A listing of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council members reads like a buffet of New York interest and lobbying groups. There’s no trust in the Council, nor is there a transparent outline of how they’re working or governing over all of us—the users.
Akbar, a Republican political operative who also has a long history of fraud and a nasty habit of stirring other people to harass his enemies on Twitter, is repeating a new conspiracy theory in which the Trust and Safety Council supposedly has plenipotentiary powers to micromanage Twitter’s daily affairs. As usual, this narrative is a nonsense bogeyman created to fuel another round of ’emergency’ fundraising and victimization mythology.
The #FreeStacy hashtag users are also raving about Twitter preventing their topic from ‘trending,’ thus minimizing attention to their issue, but again this is not without irony. In 2011, for example, Occupy activists complained vociferously when they thought their hashtags were being suppressed. Last year, Twitter yanked API access from liberal group #UniteBlue because of their successful formula for making topics trend at will. Where were all these libertarians and conservatives when their ideological opponents were being suppressed? Were they perhaps too busy tweeting Anita Sarkeesian’s address or threatening to shoot people who attended her talks?
These complaints also overstate McCain’s prominence on Twitter. As many observers had noted before his suspension, the vast majority of his followers were just bot accounts. Ironies abound: when McCain first purchased these ‘batch follows,’ he was very upset at how fake they appeared to be, and tried to blame their too-sudden appearance on his political enemies. Even as recently as a few weeks ago, his few hundred actual human followers ascribed this event to me(!) in yet another ridiculous conspiracy theory that deflected from McCain’s own errors in judgment. But now that he’s been suspended for abuse, McCain’s tens of thousands of fake followers are suddenly proof of his great popularity and touted as evidence that Twitter had better ‘wise up.’
At Michelle Malkin’s aptly-named Hot Air blog, Ed Morrissey whines:
I have enjoyed Twitter in the past, but enjoy it less and less these days. That’s not because of the trolls; it’s because of the very real sense that Twitter doesn’t value free speech or the participation of my friends and colleagues, and that we’re only tolerated for as long as we don’t cross their orthodoxy in any significant manner. What makes this so absurd is that Twitter is about the least substantial communication platform in popular use, thanks to its 140-character limit. Dorsey and the TSC treat it as a medium of such importance that competing views outside their comfort zone must be somehow suppressed, while ignoring the fact that Twitter only really matters as a fun and quick way to engage people without the very barriers they are erecting.
So where was Mr. Morrissey when McCain was making Twitter “less and less fun” for me, my friends, our fellow liberal activists, and any woman who dared to have opinions not formulated by a man? Sure, McCain has the right to walk into a party full of diverse people and declare aloud that Trayvon Martin “deserved” to be shot dead for being a black male in a hoodie — and yes, he’s actually said that — but McCain has no right to expect everyone in the room will just politely tolerate his racist asshat behavior. Nor should he expect the objects of his constant, grinding attention to just grin and bear it while a small army of trolls takes his cues to invent new ways of circumventing Twitter’s block and mute functions. And before anyone defends his innocence in such a scheme, remember that it’s exactly what McCain has repeatedly accused his enemies of doing to him.
McCain’s suspension therefore belongs in the same category as that of Charles C. Johnson, a notorious troll and hatemonger who finally lost his account for making threats after being suspended four times for publishing personal information and real-life stalking. Pax Dickinson, the anti-feminist ‘brogrammer’ who famously lost his job as Chief Technology Officer at Business Insider over his racist and bigoted tweets, has made the comparison between Johnson and McCain himself in a blog post about Twitter’s “crackdown on free speech.” At the end, he makes this chilling announcement:
Charles Johnson and I are soon going to be launching an information marketplace called Wesearchr. I’m really excited about this company, it is absolutely unlike any other existing media business and it’s been great fun to develop something truly unique.
Those of us who’ve watched these cads the longest get the sinking feeling that Wesearchr is a dox machine — that is, an information website specifically built to enable the social media harassment of political and ideological enemies. If so, the Twitter Trust and Safety Council apparently has plenty of work ahead of them.