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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

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Message To Parag Agrawal, CEO Of Twitter



Dear Mr. Agrawal,

It’s 2:00 in the morning here in beautiful Samos, Greece, where I am on business attending to my efforts on the educational front. I woke up with you and your company on my mind,  in my currently jet-lagged state, unable to drowse further, and so I’m sitting here writing instead of sleeping, which the more cautious and sensible part of me wishes devoutly I was able to do instead.  

A few weeks ago, the wise folks at Twitter deemed it necessary to suspend my access to that platform, despite the fact that I had several million followers; despite the fact that I had used the platform in good faith; despite the fact that I had put in the years’ of time and effort necessary to gain such an extensive following; despite the fact that I was a genuine force on Twitter, trending with a rather appalling and frightening degree of regularity. In many ways, I’m your monster, sir.

The reason for the suspension? It’s not exactly clear, because very little is exactly clear, Mr. Agrawal, with regard to your social media network (apart from the fact that you allow an awful lot of misbehavior, what with the appalling proliferation of anonymous and near-demonic trolls and bots and professional manipulation of the public space by actors such as the Russian and Chinese governments and the proclivity of your own people to censor only those voices they don’t agree with politically). 

The Tweet that brought about my suspension was one directed for better or worse at the actress/actor Ellen (now Elliot) Page, who I criticized, along with his or her physician, for publicly trumpeting and publicizing the decision to have her perfectly functional breasts removed in the attempt to switch sexes. Which decision was up to him or her — and appropriately, I at least half-suppose — but which also served as a much-publicized (more than a million and a half Instagram likes) model for confused adolescents who might be considering in their juvenile confusion walking down the same direly and irreversibly damaging road. 

I don’t think for a moment that it was even the criticism, per se, that resulted in my ban, but my use of Ellen’s original name – a practice which the exceptionally active yet exceptionally tiny but noisy and endlessly troublesome trans-activist so-called “community” has decided to term “dead-naming,” and which has in consequence become by their anarchic and presumptuous fiat the modern equivalent of a mortal sin. But I don’t know, do I, because your idiot policies of arbitrary exclusion are unbelievably and appallingly ill-defined. Thus, I am not granted the opportunity to face my accuser or accusers (is there just one? Are there many? Who are they, exactly? Are they inside or outside of Twitter? Why have they been granted this decision-making power?). And I continue not to know, even though I followed your equally ill-defined and parameterized appeal process with regard to this censorious and judgmental action, undertaken in the shadowy background of your equally shadowy company, as I have yet to hear anything at all from the powers that be at Twitter on that appeal front.

But I know absolutely that you know, personally, of my suspension, and that you have been questioned about that, because I have been told by a very good and exceedingly influential friend of mine who spoke directly to you very recently that he asked you just exactly what in hell you were thinking when you banned me, and I also have heard that an equally or even more influential person, with whom you have also recently had very public dealings (which did not turn out well for your company) has raised exactly the same concerns.

And I also know that your demented and presumptuous minions have their eagle eye on my account — or that a coterie of influential activists is monitoring my online behavior on Twitter assiduously, despite my banning. How, exactly, have I come by this information? Well, two days ago, I deleted the Page Tweet. Why, when I said quite publicly that I would rather die than do so? Well, I needed to do some house-cleaning on my account, in relationship to some other Tweets I had posted many months ago—a relatively minor matter, but one that became a somewhat pressing practical necessity. Afterward, I reposted a screenshot of the Page Tweet, stating that I was obliged to do so, as I had given my word that I would not delete it despite my suspension (and the attempt at public shaming that that suspension hypothetically constituted) and Bingo! Within hours I was banned again! So, your staff can act pretty damn fast when it comes to registering and reacting to my hypothetical misbehavior, but are pretty damn slow when it comes to, say, responding in any manner whatsoever to the appeal I submitted objecting to the ban (or at least raising questions about its rationale). 

Now, those opposed to my views and, indeed, the fact of my very existence, might object (and do so, frequently and vociferously on your hellhole of a platform). ‘Hey, self-proclaimed evil capitalist and proclaimer of the value of free speech: The CEO of free-market Twitter and his propagandistic minions have the right to allow or disallow anyone they choose to post on their privately-owned platform’ — and that is true. You and they (see that care with pronouns?) have that right, but have also clearly accepted a commensurate although more implicit responsibility. In principle, at least, Twitter is a platform that owes its very existence to the habit, tradition and right of free speech — the very foundation stone of the great country in which you operate — and has as the only possible justification for that existence outside of sheer instrumental greed, its hypothetical contribution to the exchange of views that make up part of philosophical and political discourse (and humor and wit and, indeed, the narcissistic and often near-psychopathic commentary that accompanies such exchange, particularly in its electronically-mediated form).

And I would say that your company does a remarkably and singularly bad job of bearing that responsibility, as your former security lead has just fortuitously pointed out, in an interview in Time Magazine, which is not exactly a bastion of the conservative or even classic liberal thought that you seem to oppose so randomly, arbitrarily, casually, high-handedly and inappropriately. Peiter Zatko, your former security lead, has painted, in the words of that same Time Magazine, “a damning portrait of a company in crisis. In an 84-page complaint to federal regulatory agencies and the Department of Justice, which was first reported by the Washington Post and CNN and which TIME obtained from a congressional source, he describes Twitter as crippled by rudderless and dishonest leadership, beset by “egregious” privacy and security flaws, tainted by foreign influence, a danger to national security, and susceptible even to total collapse.”

That’s a lot of flaws, Mr. Agrawal, for someone who also seems to believe that the arbitrary suspension of the truly bad people, such as myself, is a moral necessity, to keep the sphere of public discourse pristine. And we might also point out, since we’re talking about moral insufficiency, that your recent discussions with Elon Musk didn’t fare so well, did they, since your company seemed utterly unable or unwilling to specify even the percentage of fake bot accounts active on Twitter? A supporter of Twitter might object: Mr. Musk was just looking for the way out of a bad deal. I personally find that argument weak to the point of preposterousness. It’s not at all obvious to me that Mr. Elon Musk is anyone’s fool – particularly not Twitter’s—and one thing that absolutely remarkable man did was reveal to the world just how troubled your much-vaunted and incredibly troublesome social media network really is. And, on the heels of that debacle, this whistle-blower emerged. Not a good month for you, following as you have so recently in the footsteps of Mr. Jack Dorsey, who also seemed to regard the Twitter snakepit he helped establish but could not eventually regulate as a very good place to depart.

And then we must return to the issue of Donald Trump. I would not exactly describe myself as a supporter of Mr. Trump, although I probably would have voted for him instead of Hillary had I been American (although who knows when push comes to shove) and do not possess the paranoia with regard to his machinations that characterizes his most fervent and often near-deluded opponents. I think that on the campaign trail and in office he capitalized, somewhat dangerously, on the resentment festering among the working class who were so carelessly and foolishly and arrogantly abandoned by their former political representatives on the Democrat side under Hillary Clinton (who richly deserved, in consequence, the moral drubbing she received at Trump’s hand). I think that appealing to that resentment, instead of putting forth a positive alternative vision (although he did offer some of that) risked increasing the sense that the fundamental institutions of America, your great country, have now been rendered permanently untrustworthy, instead of simply in need of some reparative vision, some maintenance and a modicum of necessary housecleaning. I believe this was a mistake because the radical Leftists who believe that everything should be burned to the ground—constitution, capitalism, tradition, identity—make the same claims, and they are the most dangerous opponents of the conservatives hypothetically represented by the Republicans, and the last thing we need on the more traditional and cautious side is anything that makes those radical claims appear valid.

I also believe that Mr. Trump erred greatly — not least strategically — in his decision to push the narrative of a stolen election. Even if he is correct (and I don’t believe that he is, technically, even though he was treated more despicably and unfairly and prejudicially by his political opponents than any US leader in living memory) the former President of the United States has spent a lifetime advertising himself (and very successfully) as the very model of a winner; as the man to whom such things as having an entire country stolen out from under him simply couldn’t happen; as the man whose business acumen and street smarts were such that he could outwit and outfox and charm not only the world’s most dangerous and intractable dictators, but his own nearby opponents on the political front in his own country. I do understand, as I said, that many unpalatable and immoral broadsides were launched against Mr. Trump (including his banning from Twitter, Mr. Agrawal — a stain on the political landscape which has not yet been scrubbed away) and I can understand why he feels uniquely embattled, but I stand by my diagnosis: The Donald went off-brand in a potentially fatal manner when he decided to cast himself as yet another victim.

But Mr. Trump also accomplished some singular things, in my estimation, and got very little credit for it, where credit was clearly due. He warned the Europeans a few years ago in no uncertain terms that their virtue-signaling submission to the so-called environmentalist and utterly economically and practically deranged globalist utopians was going to bring them great grief, not least by placing them under Putin’s thumb. And he was roundly and thoroughly pilloried for offering this absolutely accurate and self-evident diagnosis, as he was for so much of what he did. And how much more correct could he have been, as current events have clearly demonstrated?

And Trump’s team finalized the Abraham Accords, which could obviously have been expanded more recently to include the Saudis (the Saudis (!), who worked diligently in the background to make that impossible peace with Israel a reality; who offer at least a comparatively desirable alternative to the Iranians; and who might well have been willing to provide the emergency fossil fuel that would have kept gasoline and heating and cooling prices down for Americans at the pump and at home if their rulers hadn’t been hectored on very dubious moral grounds by the unwise actors constituting the current Democrat administration. Obama received a Nobel Prize for doing nothing but winning a presidential election while being Black, to put it bluntly, and I think he knew it, although he cravenly accepted the prize anyway. Trump and his team and all the people from the Middle East involved in the Abraham Accords received almost no legacy press attention (certainly none that was positive), and certainly no Nobel Prize, even though what they managed was clearly the most significant advance on the peace front in that embattled region since World War Two (at minimum).

And your company had the presumption to ban Mr. Trump, despite the fact that he was the democratic choice of the majority of your populace — elected President, remember? And you haven’t seen fit to lift that ban, despite the fact that there is truly no shortage of genuinely bad actors on your very poorly run platform — and, despite the fact that you simply do not have the moral standing or the authority in the most fundamental moral rather than narrowly legalistic sense to interfere in the operation of the polity that encompasses your operation and that you hypothetically are bound in allegiance to. And you banned and haven’t lifted that ban on Trump despite the fact that the ban in all likelihood (given the centrality and sacrality of freedom of speech) did more harm than good, even if the idea that Trump was not good for the country, in the main, is accepted. Many, many people have come to distrust Twitter—and, indeed, the entire domain of corporate-sponsored or hosted public dialog – because of the murky nature of your decisions to censor or allow speech. And that has allowed the paranoia and distrust etc. that your company was hypothetically opposed to when Trump was hypothetically and uniquely (because why ban only him) generating. In my opinion, pushing Trump underground to the degree that you did made everything that was objectionable about his mode of action in terms of its public effect worse, not better, and I don’t see any evidence whatsoever that you have seriously contended with that possibility at all. There is plenty of destructive conspiratorial thinking on the right (some of which has turned out to be all too justified) and persecuting those who tend toward that form of conceptualization certainly exacerbates the tendency. But, in this era of self-defined identity, you and your people feel good about it, and that’s what counts (although objective facts tend to be pesky things and they are not so easily dispensed with). 

You could have just let him continue with his Twitter actions and let the people judge – that’s what the constitution of your country enables them to do – and you interfered with that. And you haven’t changed your mind, you’ve doubled down instead, despite the revelation of your own company’s clear and ongoing moral and practical inadequacy. 

Back to my situation, from the domain of more general concerns about censorship and carelessness: I have, frankly, found it a relief to be banished from the Twitter world. The anonymous trolls, psychopaths, narcissists and Machiavellians allowed by your own inconsistent and psychologically-inappropriate rules make operating there on any scale frustrating and anger-provoking beyond tolerance. The fact that you so casually enable that tiny minority of cowardly, anonymous people who have nothing better to do than cause trouble by generating and promulgating the kind of derisive, contemptuous ‘LOL,’ ‘LMFAO,’ ‘Bro,’ ‘Bruh,’ ‘Dude,’ comments that would get anyone who dared utter even one of them in person to their targets immediately punched in that mocking, cowardly, self-aggrandizing face means that your platform represents a signal threat to the integrity of the discourse upon which the stability of your country and the mental health of its youth depend—as you have been directly warned by psychologists of great repute, such as Dr. Jonathan Haidt, as moderate and wise a learned person as you could hope to have for counsel.  

In consequence, I see very little evidence that you have the ability or the vision or the concern necessary to set the pathological den of serpents that you so apparently carelessly enable and govern straight. And that is a very dire problem, set to get much worse, as this fall’s crucially important elections loom. A very small minority of truly misbehaving people pose a constant threat to the integrity of society, as they eternally have, and your electronically-mediated communication system, with its ultimately and oh-so-morally but exceedingly carelessly flattened social hierarchy (where anyone whatsoever, even someone who bears no responsibility and who wishes to continue that way can say anything whatsoever to anyone they choose in any manner whatsoever—and can do so even if they literally do not exist and are lying outright in the most egregious and troublesome fashion imaginable) is doing nothing but magnifying their positively demonic voices and spreading the chaos those voices are evilly motivated to generate. 

I wouldn’t claim that my behavior on Twitter was perfect (or, indeed, that any of my behavior is perfect) as Twitter is a very difficult platform to use properly, and I have plenty to learn on that front. I didn’t want to ignore Twitter, despite its pitfalls (even though I probably should have), because, for better or worse, your platform is a major social player and psychological/sociological phenomenon, one that I wanted and needed to and felt a real responsibility to understand, and one that is impossible to understand, let along master (or diagnose) without its actual use. But I Tweeted several thousands times, to many millions of people, and only a vanishingly small percentage of those missives caused the kind of concern that might properly culminate in disciplinary actions (to say nothing of outright bannings), if they were conducted with a shred of decency and care. And I have taken very public steps to rectify and modify my inadequacies on the communication front. 

It is therefore by no means clear that you or those who help you run your benighted and blighted direct-democracy mob-rule psychopath-dominated communication platform have the moral standing to render the kind of arbitrary and careless judgement on the behavior of others you deem inappropriate (who also, just by coincidence, don’t happen to share your progressive political views). You have, as noted previously, the technical right to do so. Which you do, and should. But on the moral front you and Twitter have an awful lot to learn, and a clear and pressing responsibility to take action on that front, as the power of your platform is immense, and I think the actions of your company are, in the main, making things in the world much worse than they need to be. And I have thought deeply about it, and talked to many wise and informed people about it, as well. And they agree and are equally or more concerned. 

So: I am for that reason unwilling to quietly accede to your kind corrective, repetitive, insistent and thoroughly public though it has been. I would also, in closing, like to reiterate my irritation at the facts that: 

(1) I was banned from your platform without anything other than a generic and self-serving low-resolution explanation;

(2) that my appeal of that ban was ignored, even though my repetition of the aforesaid behavior was noted and acted upon within hours, if not minutes; 

(3) that your company’s reasons for banning and manipulating (or “regulating” the behavior of your users) are utterly opaque, ineffectual and self-contradictory, 

(4) that your own security personnel and potential investors or even purchasers of your company have been properly scared off by the chaos that reigns under your authority; 

(5) that you take to yourself the moral propriety necessary to continue censoring a former president of the United States even as a critical election approaches, without knowing at all whether or not you are making even the situation under him that you object to worse instead of better (and have absolutely no reliable data pertaining to that possibility) and, finally, 

(6) that your careless censorious behavior and enabling of the anonymous Machiavellian narcissists and psychopaths who inhabit the Twitter-troll-world underworld is warping and dementing the entire domain of public discourse. 

People who live in glass houses, Mr. Agrawal.

And you might ask yourself, by the way, who cast the first stone? 



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