Twitter, we have a problem.
This morning, the 140-character platform (280 for some) was taken to task for temporarily locking actress Rose McGowan’s account. Initially, it appeared the lockout was the result of McGowan’s tweets about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
Twitter later released a statement, explaining that McGowan included a private phone number, a violation of the Twitter Rules. CEO Jack Dorsey also took to Twitter, adding that the company should have been clearer off the bat about its reasons for locking McGowan’s account: The notification McGowan received said her account “violated the Twitter Rules,” but failed to specify what those violations were.
However, while Twitter explained its reasons for locking McGowan’s account, her confusion brings awareness to a much larger problem that the platform has been facing all along. In recent weeks, an increasing number of people have spoken out against Twitter, citing inconsistencies in how it decides to lock and suspend accounts.
The Twitter Rules, written by Twitter for users, are supposed to serve as a guidebook to help you understand if what you tweet will get you kicked off the site. The Rules break Twitter’s policies up into three broad categories: Content boundaries and use of Twitter, which prohibits things like using the site to perform illegal activities and infringe copyright; abusive behavior, which prohibits direct and indirect violent threats, harassment, hateful language, creating multiple accounts, sharing others’ private information, and impersonation; and spam, which prohibits selling Twitter usernames and linking to malware.
In its support pages, Twitter explains that violations of one or more of those Rules, as well as concerns that an account may have been hacked, can result in a lock or temporary limits on your account — as McGowan experienced. In those cases, users can delete tweets or follow steps to confirm their identity and have their account restored. A suspension can also be temporary, but Twitter is less clear about the distinction between a limited account and a suspended account, as well as how it decides whether to permanently or temporarily suspend an account.
This lack of clarity and, in some cases, a seeming arbitrariness as to whose accounts are locked — and not locked, was a key point of conversation last week. Sarah Kunst, the founder of sports media site Proday and former venture capitalist, began tweeting at Twitter's executives about the site's problems with bots and trolls. She ended up igniting a tweet storm, with men and women calling out the platform for its failure to handle abusive accounts.
Twitter can continue to reference its values of free speech and open conversation, but at some point it will need to answer for the inconsistencies its users have experienced. Until it does, expect the storm to keep raging.