Twitter has permanently suspended conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, saying that he subjected other users to targeted abuse. Yiannopoulos' suspension comes amid a recent campaign aimed at Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones in which users tweeted hundreds of racist and abusive messages. [linked site contains offensive material]
"People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter," Twitter said in a statement emailed to NPR. "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 has denied any wrongdoing, and characterizes his suspension as political.
Jones, who is black, tweeted that the barrage of hateful tweets had prompted her to leave the platform. "I feel like I'm in a personal hell. I didn't do anything to deserve this," she said. In her final post, she added: "I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart."
A spokesman for Twitter said the company had taken action against "many of the accounts reported to us by both Leslie and others," according to The Associated Press.
Jones had called for Twitter to impose "guidelines" on free speech, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey posted that he was following the situation.
Yiannopoulos, a tech editor at the conservative website Breitbart News, is a self-styled provocateur who's been at the center of numerous controversies. The New York Times describes him as "one of the most egregious and consistent offenders of [Twitter's] terms of service."
In a statement, Yiannopoulos denied breaking Twitter's terms of service, saying:
"I did nothing wrong. Twitter has suspended me without evidence of wrongdoing and without explanation while allowing the most appalling abuses to continue on its platform. This is political, plain and simple. Leslie Jones ain't afraid of no ghost — but evidently she's allergic to bad reviews."
He added that "Twitter's permanent suspension of my account makes a mockery of their claims to be a free speech platform."
Speaking at a Gays for Trump event in Cleveland on Wednesday, Yiannopoulos said he was suspended "for getting into a fight with a black Ghostbuster." He continued: "What a humiliating end to a wonderful run. I thought it could at least be getting into a fight with somebody serious, but no — it was the tertiary star of a f****** terrible feminist flop." Yiannopoulos said he sees it as a sign of a culture war.
As we have reported, the Ghostbusters reboot with an all-female cast has attracted sexist and racist comments. NPR's Linda Holmes explained on All Things Considered:
"For a subset of those people, that was a huge part of what their complaint was either because they didn't want to see it with women or because they felt like putting women in it was a gimmick or some kind of politically correct, as they would say, nod to feminists or something like that.
"So there was some of that. There was some racist abuse on Twitter directed at Leslie Jones. ... There was a lot of very ugly stuff that was kind of layered on top of the fact that with any movie, some people just don't like it or don't care about it. But it was that gendered and in some cases racist stuff that has gotten kind of the most attention and been the noisiest."
Many Twitter users have been posting messages of support for Jones using the hashtag #LoveforLeslieJ, including Ghostbusters director Paul Feig.
Likewise, supporters of Yiannopoulos are rallying around the hashtag #FreeMilo, which is currently trending on Twitter.
Twitter has come under criticism over its handling of abusive content. In its statement Wednesday, the company added: "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."
Yiannopoulos isn't the first Twitter user to face permanent suspension. Infamous troll Chuck Johnson was barred from the site last year "after asking for funds to 'take out' the civil rights activist DeRay McKesson," as The Washington Post reported.