Perspective: #FreeMilo a problem, but a first world one

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Twitter’s permanent ban of right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulous is a joke, but the outrage over it is also a bit much.

What a luxury to live in societies where unfair treatment from a social media platform is the biggest injustice we face. 

{mosads}The ban apparently came just 20 minutes before Yiannopoulos’ scheduled remarks at a “Gays for Trump” event in Cleveland on July 19, and followed a Twitter scuffle between “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones and the outspoken British conservative. Yiannopoulos is accused of inciting a barrage of racist, sexist tweets against Jones, although specific details of which Twitter policy led to his ban haven’t been provided.

The recent decision shows a double standard, certainly, when people like GQ writer Nathaniel Friedman make death threats but don’t get their account suspended. Jones, too, has some questionable tweets in her past repertoire. 

At issue with Yiannopoulos specifically, seems to be incitement of followers into an online mob of bullies. Yiannopoulos’ supporters, who’ve taken up the hashtag #freemilo, are protesting and say that supporters of causes such as #BlackLivesMatter aren’t called to task for inciting bullying, threatening and name-calling on Twitter.

They claim jihadists, anti-white racists and verbally abusive feminists are allowed to run wildon the social platform, while Twitter focuses its ire mainly on conservatives and libertarians. Some have begun posting claims of where they’ve been threatened but their report to Twitter didn’t result in a ban against the perpetrator. The pattern seems to be that Twitter allows almost anything as long as your politics are right (as in, left).

Yiannopoulos’ account has been suspended several times in the past but was reinstated. Yiannopoulos is a tech editor at and had 338,000 followers at the time of the ban. Twitter’s rules regarding abusive behavior are fairly concise and coherent, however they leave obvious room for interpretation in the case of online behavior that may be offensive or provocative but not clearly in violation.

For example a heated exchange on Twitter involving two parties who both may be using denigrating language and inciting their followers may come down to an interpretation by Twitter of which of the two is more to blame for the situation, or other vague methods of determining whether and whom to suspend or ban.

Yiannopoulus, for his part, has called the ban “cowardly” and said it’s proof that Twitter is a “no-go zone for conservatives.” Conservative, here, is broadly-defined, as Yiannopoulos certainly isn’t reserved in his personality or candor about his lifestyle. He’s recently been on a college speaking circuit where he’s fond of joking about his predilection for sex with black men, details of his intimate life and physical attraction to Donald Trump.

Yiannopoulos, who is gay, generally preaches a libertarian doctrine of classical liberalism and free markets. He is fond of saying that “feminism is cancer,” and has faced aggressive, bizarre protests at some of his speaking events that have raised his prominence in the public eye (probably in ways he otherwise wouldn’t really merit, after all his insights and statements aren’t particularly original or deep). Of late he has become very vocal about his opposition to Islam with regard to the treatment of gays in many Muslim nations.

His ban will continue to create a stir online, and there have been calls for amass boycott from some Yiannopoulos supporters, but it’s doubtful his exile will be “the end for Twitter” as he claimed.

There was quite the uproar when Yiannopoulos had his blue, verified account checkmark removed and the revolt this time is likely to be similar, with the difference that Twitter is unlikely to reverse a permanent ban. They haven’t for others in the elite club such as right-wing figures Chuck Johnson and Robert Stacy McCain. Where are the corresponding permanent-bans of left-wing figures who went too far on Twitter?

In any case, unless it’s able and willing to consistently enforce its suspension and ban policies, Twitter will be called out for actions such as its ban of Yiannopoulos. It’s OK to care about #freemilo, or find another platform that’s less apparently censorious, but don’t pretend you’re Joan of Arc.

There’s almost a certain amount of gleeful indignation at this latest affront from some Yiannopoulos supporters. Indeed, the perceived persecution of him only drives his popularity, so perhaps there’s reason to be a bit up about it while also being down.

The fact remains through all of these kind of controversies that they are decidedly First World Problems in the scheme of things. Yiannopoulos will still be able to give talks, hold a gay pride parade through a Muslim neighborhood in Stockholm,sneak in photos tweeted out by his friends on Twitter, and write on Breitbart. He’s not been arrested or tortured for his speech like many still are around the world. 

As the Twitter ban began spreading over Twitter, news later broke that much-respected Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed by a car bomb in Kiev. The amount of people detained, fired or suspended following the failed coup attempt in Turkey surpassed 50,000. The world is mourning those killed earlier this month in the Karrada district of Baghdad, those run down in Nice, France, those in critical condition after an ISIS-inspired teen attacked people with an ax on a German train.

So yes, Yiannopoulos deserves to have his say, and Twitter should be called to task for what looks like pretty unevenly-applied standards. But fired up supporters of Yiannopoulos shouldn’t mistake this for some dramatic historical turning point of free speech. As the divisive rhetoric ratchets up online and people invest their emotional energy in virtual worlds that don’t even exist as the real one burns it seems like it’s time to check priorities.

Sure, #freemilo, but don’t think it’s some grand moral crusade. Really it’s more like a circus. 

Paul Rowan Brian is a freelance journalist whose interests include politics, religion, and world news. His website is and he is on Twitter @paulrbrian.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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