Twitter blocks Douglas Ernst

FINAL UPDATE: Twitter lifted my suspension after one month. To learn more about how it all unfolded, you can read more about it here.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said earlier this year he was “ashamed” and “embarrassed” at how the company deals with bullying. Apparently they haven’t made much progress, because these days Twitter allows death threats to slide. Worse, if you’ve been the target of a death threat and you question how on earth the user responsible can get away with it, then Twitter Support will ban you. I know from first-hand experience.

Twitter unrealI wrote a story for work on March 31st on Iranian aircraft that buzzed a U.S. Navy helicopter in the Persian Gulf. I often have incredibly shady people follow me or tweet strange things in response to anything I write on the Middle East, but that story actually generated a death threat.

Twitter threatTwitter’s policy on threats of violence seem pretty straight forward to me: “You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence.”

Perhaps my logic is lacking on this one, but I’ve always been under the impression that something like “We will find you and kill you — death to America,” is a direct threat of violence. If you agree with me, then you too are wrong! Twitter Support “could not determine” if such tweets constitute a violation of its terms of service.

Twitter RulesHere is the email that Twitter Support sent me on Monday, April 6, 2015:

Twitter noticeKind of frustrating, isn’t it? To Twitter Support, my account must be suspended for publicly bringing attention to the fact that a guy making death threats is currently allowed to do so with impunity.

Twitter suspend appealQuestion for Twitter CEO Dick Costolo: If you’re “ashamed” at how Twitter deals with online bullying, then what emotions do you feel now that your support staff are suspending the accounts of people who are the target of death threats?

If Twitter is going to be suspending accounts, then maybe it should start internally with employees who are unsure if threatening to kill someone is a violation of the company’s terms of service.

Update: It is now May 4 and my suspension began on April 6. I have put in four appeals — all ignored by Twitter. The social media manager at my place of employment sent three emails to Twitter’s press account, and all of those were ignored. A coworker of mine had a contact at Twitter who helped her with a story — Nu Wexler — but when my employer’s social media manager reached out to him the silent treatment continued. This is the weirdest situation on social media I have ever encountered. Thank you to everyone who has been sharing this story on my behalf.

Press Inquiry

Twitter AppealRelated: WND has reported on my story. Give it a read if you get a chance.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

33 comments

  1. Um, what in Twitter’s estimation would constitute “further evidence of a violation”? A death certificate? A body? Beyond unbelievable and patently despicable.

    1. Good question, Alltoohuman! 🙂 I was wondering the same thing myself. Apparently, I’m the bad guy for asking that question publicly. Given that Islamic State group trolls Twitter to make kill lists of active military personnel and veterans, I find it odd that Twitter isn’t taking these threats more seriously.

      Given that I am a veteran whose job it is to report on defense issues (e.g., Islamic State), I thought Twitter Support would be able to identify “we will kill you … death to America” as a violation of its terms and services. I guess not.

    2. Doug, Twitter’s actions are incomprehensible. So, let me understand, reprehensible speech of this kind is not considered actionable by Twitter (nonsense, it seems, considering the rules you cited)? And Twitter permits speech that threatens murder, especially in the present context, in which military personnel and veterans have been threatened, the very persons who have and are protecting the freedoms upon which the grotesquely rich Twitter and all the rest of us depend? And Twitter suspends you for calling attention to its inaction? Unbelievable!

      I’m no lawyer, but as I understand, as a business Twitter can make policies that prohibit certain forms of speech on its site, which as you show it has indeed done. What sort of speech would Twitter ban, then, if not a murder threat? A threat of rape? Hate speech? Twitter’s decision seems arbitrary. What, does Twitter have a vendetta against you? Does it fear repercussions from the radicals who posted this message?

      Your suspension is most definitely a case of punishing the victim. What hypocrites. I am very glad that I don’t have a Twitter account.

  2. This is ridiculous, and kind of unnerving for me as I just joined Twitter the other day (thanks for the follow, by the way). It’s almost comical how Twitter will see a Liam Neeson style threat against your life in all caps, and their response is a shrug of the shoulders followed by a petty act of suspending you because you dared to question them. Real maturity going on there. Hope the appeal goes your way!

    1. Thanks for taking time to read and comment, Grant. I tend to follow back unless it’s someone who never tweets or they tend to post on stories that are of no interest to me (e.g., cooking). If I ever get my account back, I’ll try and keep an eye out for your account in my feed. 🙂

      This isn’t the first time Twitter has pulled this with me. Al Sharpton apparently got my account sent to the Twitter gulag for awhile during the Gosnell trial. The rule seems to be that Al Sharpton can say all sorts of mean and nasty things about conservatives on a daily basis, but if I randomly call him out on his hypocrisy, then that’s unacceptable.

  3. Wow! that’s unreal. It’s a rather apathetic response from Twitter. What further evidence of a violation are they seeking? It’s all there in the tweet. What are they afraid of?

    I shut my Twitter account down last year as I hardly used it. Life is far more interesting and busy than to spend too much time on social media platforms. 🙂

    1. Twitter: “These are not the death threats you are looking for…”

      The thing that stinks about this is that my job basically dictates that I use Twitter. It’s hard to disseminate news when one of the main vehicles for doing that is taken away from me. Reason: I was ticked off that Twitter looked at a guy who said he was going to kill me and essentially said, “Eh. Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along.”

  4. I’m sorry twitter handled that so poorly. The lack of logic behind their account suspensions is legendary. Much of social media struggles to handle cyber threats in a reasonable manner and fails miserably, but twitter really takes the cake.

    Also, our own government has shown a rather pathetic disinterest in protecting citizens from foreign cyber threats. I find it appalling. So much for the preamble where we “…insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare..”

    1. Thank goodness I have this blog. It’s frustrating how someone like me can responsibly use a platform like Twitter for years, but because I call them out for not suspending the guy who said he’s going to kill me, suddenly I’m the one who needs to be silenced.

  5. And after the maniac hunts you down and decapitates you, the Justice Department will prosecute you (in absentia) for violating his civil rights, because you bled all over his nice, shiny, new scimitar.

    I have no intention of ever getting a Twitter account. Its character limitations make it suitable only for flippant one-liners. It can’t handle an in-depth discussion of a complex subject.

    Come to think of it, that also describes a lot of the people who use it.

    1. I agree with you in many respects, Tom. However, I think Twitter can be a powerful tool for disseminating information. If you’re using it to point people in the direction of something substantive, it can be great. If you’re using it to make jokes about your bowel movements (I think Ashton Kutcher did that years ago), then it’s ridiculous.

  6. Yet another reason why I don’t use Twitter. Course that’s mostly because I already have enough social media apps as it is for my studio. But hey, that’s just me.

  7. How dare you bring up to public that they allow death threats against conservatives. I wonder if the same response would have happened to a liberal?
    This was a shameful move.

    1. thanks so much for posting this, it happen to me, we had a bully stalking about 5 of us ladies, twitter wouldn’t do anything, when we stood up to him, he turned us in and we got suspended. yet, he is still on here, posting info about women and children..think twitter needs to clean house..cuz this is not right and innocent ppl are still be targeted…again thanks for posting it, had a friend that sent it to me and was thrilled to know other ppl are going thru what we are thank you!

    2. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate it. Twitter certainly has done a woeful job as it pertains to policing its own site. That’s not me talking and that’s not you talking — that’s Twitter’s CEO talking. In my case, I got suspended for pointing out that a guy making death threats gets to do so with impunity. Your case details a similar experience as it pertains to an online stalker/bully. How many others are out there? It’s a good question. It’s obviously too many.

      I’m not sure how long my suspension will last, but in the end they screwed up — this blog post now exists, and it is incredibly embarrassing for Twitter.

  8. Twitter-son,
    Just can’t leave you alone on evil twitter for a minute! Returned after my Lent hiatus, searched for you>> flabbergasted when the “sorry that user is suspended” flashed upon my screen. I singularly tweeted twitter support, to pathetic avail. Tweeted Jessica C. a few days ago…she’s a powerhouse & found your blog which I hadn’t thought to investigate. Sent Lachlan a copy of one of her tweets today. More power! Prayers for your safety, Doug. Hope twitter resolves this today. Thanks for making your talents really count.
    Gratefully, Ginny
    *** “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” ~ Winston Churchill ***

    1. Gin! Hello, Twitter-mom. 🙂 Thank you so much. It’s been really amazing to see all the people who shared my blog on Twitter, in large part because of your efforts. This whole ordeal has felt like a weird dream. I have no idea how a guy can explicitly say he’s going to kill me, have Twitter deem that not a violation of its policies, and then ban me when I bring the absurdity to the company’s attention.

      The worst thing about this is that I’m at Twitter’s mercy. I can’t talk with a real person, its not my platform, and they sent me an email that said they’ll get around to my appeal whenever they get around to it. My guess is that they’ll say I broke some rule (I didn’t), and that I’ll have to agree not to break said rule again. So then my options are to agree to something I didn’t do, or not — and possibly lose the account all together.

      Thanks for the Churchill quote! It’s definitely uplifting. Indeed, the circumstances surrounding my suspension are incredibly suspect. Would I have been suspended if my Twitter feed’s ideological tone were of a more leftist persuasion? I can’t help but wonder.

  9. Pingback: The Breakup – The Orange Mask
  10. My twitter acct was suspended as well and twitter support never clarified as to why. Multiple appeals were ignored and I just gave up decided to abandon the platform. Their polices are enforced in arbitrary and capricious ways and users are leaving.

    1. Your account was suspended, too? Carl, I can’t imagine what the heck you would say that would get your account suspended. That’s very strange, but on some level hilarious. Is it a violation to be too nice to someone? Haha. 🙂

  11. One possible clue as to the lousy excuse behind Twitter’s incomprehensible actions is that they’re following the directives given them by the group which originally advocated for the reporting system they have now.
    This was discussed last year on reddit.com’s /r/mensrights subreddit when Women Action Media pushed for policy changes in response to a heated argument on Twitter involving an attempt to get a woman’s face printed on currency… British, if I remember correctly. During that argument, troll had made increasingly nasty and eventually threatening comments to an advocate who could have blocked him but chose not to. WAM treated the entire argument (not just the troll’s comments) as abuse, and the group demanded that twitter provide a reporting system specifically intended to cater to women’s sensibilities. In their letter, they even offered the statement that the same abuse should be treated differently depending on whether it involved a man targeting a woman, or a woman targeting a man. Their claim was that it’s defense when women do it.
    If Twitter’s administrators are either feminist-leaning or simply listened to that hogwash, they may be interpreting their own policy through that filter – which means that the seriousness with which they take reported threats will vary depending on the sex of the target, probably also depending on the sex of the sender.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Hannah. I appreciate it.

      The thing that bothers me the most is that it is clearly obvious to any rational person who looks at my feed that I work for a paper and merely post news 95 percent of the time. I rarely inject my personal politics these days, although I do share blog posts on occasion. Given that, it makes no sense for Twitter to treat me like I’m a threat to the platform, public safety, etc.

      The Islamic State group is all over Twitter, and yet its moderators won’t answer my appeals. Twitter’s employees refuse to answer inquiries sent directly to its press account. Twitter is making the conscious decision not to respond to me or my employer because it knows there is no defense for my suspension.

  12. You guys seem to forget that all suspensions and other decisions are done by set of automated, heuristic algorithms. Nobody looks at all the tweets personall: that would just be too much work. If you have an idea of how these rules work you can of course “game” the system and set somebody else up to be suspended.

    1. Yes, I’m sure Twitter uses algorithms. However, as someone who writes on national security issues all the time, I have endlessly tweeted about killing, murder and destruction by terrorist groups, etc. Not once was I ever banned. It was only after calling Twitter out about letting Mr. “I will find you and kill you” slide that I was suspended.

      With that said, why is Twitter not responding to my appeals? Why is its press account not responding to my employer’s social media manager? Why is its press account not responding to my email? Those are obviously seen by a real person, but yet Twitter refuses to rectify the situation. Are you telling me that no one reads the press account? I find that hard to believe.

  13. I’m an aspiring novelist. Think I’ll find trouble if I write fiction about an FBI agent who specializes in shutting down shady and dangerous web sites? (I think I’m probably the sort of person who finds trouble whatever I do–I got called “unprofessional” for emailing my college communications class and asking to work with more active people, because I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t want to work on my group project with people who’d encourage me to procrastinate. It was my first group project–I had no idea what it entailed. I want to tag it “woefully unprepared for college because I don’t know how to format a group project.”)
    Never mind. I’ll probably be catching heat anyway, if it’s remotely well-written. You can’t live your life without offending a few people, and if you’re not deliberately being offensive then technically it’s their problem. I am severely tempted to send everyone who is offended by something I say or do without intending to offend a form letter that says “I’m sorry to offend you, I didn’t mean to do it, perhaps now you should just avoid me because I don’t really want to offend you and neither of us wants you to go through this horrible emotional trauma again.” (Pros: If they get the joke, they will be my minions friends forever!)

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