Twitter has banned one of its most notoriously contentious voices. On Tuesday evening, the microblogging service permanently suspended the account of conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, a day after he incited his followers to bombard Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones with racist and demeaning tweets.
"People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter," a company spokesperson said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. "But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others."
Yiannopoulos, who currently serves as Breitbart's tech editor, has been hailed as a voice of the new “alt-right” movement. As such, he has made a living as a provocateur, continually inflaming tensions between progressive branches of the internet focused on identity politics and the fervently anti-PC segment that constantly trolls it. For years, Yiannopoulous has used Twitter not only to voice his controversial opinions, but to direct his legion of followers (388,042 at the time of this writing) toward his opponents. As a result, he's been temporarily banned from Twitter a number of times for violating its terms of service and stripped of his verified status.
But this week he went too far. According to Twitter, it was Yiannopoulos who led the harassment campaign against Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones — an effort that inspired the SNL cast member to leave Twitter. The barrage of tweets, many of which decried Jones for being black and a woman, were the final straw for Twitter, which is working to try to solve its harassment problem.
According to the company, Yiannopoulos's permanent suspension isn't a matter of speech as much as a matter of behavior — specifically, a violation of Twitter's rules regarding the targeted abuse of specific users.
At a party Tuesday night at the GOP convention in Cleveland, Yiannopoulos told BuzzFeed News he had received an email from Twitter in advance of the action, warning him his account was about to be suspended.
"They made a very dumb decision right before I had the eyes of the world media on me. I think they're going to come to regret it," he said. "Anyone who believes in free speech was sent a very powerful message today, which is that you're not welcome on Twitter."
Asked if he planned to attempt to reinstate his account, Yiannopoulos seemed unsure.
"I don't know, maybe. I'm going to see what I can do," he said.
Here's Twitter's statement in full:
People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Over the past 48 hours in particular, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of Tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension.
We know many people believe we have not done enough to curb this type of behavior on Twitter. We agree. We are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to better allow us to identify and take faster action on abuse as it's happening and prevent repeat offenders. We have been in the process of reviewing our hateful conduct policy to prohibit additional types of abusive behavior and allow more types of reporting, with the goal of reducing the burden on the person being targeted. We’ll provide more details on those changes in the coming weeks.
Yiannopoulos responded via his employer's site, Breitbart.com, calling Twitter's permanent suspension "cowardly":
"With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.
"Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left. Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?
"Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.
"This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter."
BuzzFeed News reporter Rosie Gray contributed to this report.