Twitter Now A David-Duke-Free Zone
David Duke, for as long as many of us have been alive, has been the American name most synonymous with racism and hatred, regularly listed as one of the most appalling human beings to ever walk this earth. He was the Grand Dragon of the KKK, notable for his attempts to give the hate group a "respectable" makeover — the kind that involved trading their hoods for suits, dropping their opposition to the existence of Catholic people, and switching from those tacky cross burnings to the "It's not that we hate Black people, we don't hate anyone, it's that we really, really, really love white people and we just want to be able to celebrate our heritage the same as anyone else" line that today's professional racists have embraced and made their own. At least outwardly.
There is no question that he has certainly been one of the more influential figures in American hate, and for the last few years he has been able to wield that influence on Twitter.
But no more!
As of yesterday, David Duke is no longer welcome on Twitter.
Duke's account "has been permanently suspended for Twitter Rules on hateful conduct," a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. Twitter's policy, revised in March, prohibits posts that promote violence or threats of violence against people based on their religion, race or ethnic origin.
It wasn't immediately clear what specific post or posts by Duke led to the account's ban. The verified account for Duke, the founder and former Grand Dragon of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, was blank Thursday, replaced with a message that the account had been "permanently suspended."
Appropriately, Duke's last tweet was a video of himself interviewing Holocaust denier Germar Rudolf.
Part of the reason Duke was able to stay on Twitter for so long while others were banned for hate speech is that he managed to get around Twitter terms of service violations by using dogwhistles, by never explicitly saying anything specific that could lead to a ban. This is the problem with trying to have a one-size-fits-all hate speech policy on these sites — those who are clever, and thus far more insidious, can figure out a way around it. Someone like David Duke doesn't need to use racial slurs to advance his racist bullshit.
The problem with these policies is that they are often context-free, which allows those racists and conspiracy theorists who are smart enough to maintain a veneer of respectability to spread hate even more effectively than those who use racial slurs and direct threats. Perhaps the new policy addresses that, perhaps not. But there's a whole lot of hate that targeted algorithms can't get to, which is why it is sometimes necessary to just use common sense. Like "Oh hey, that guy was the Grand Dragon of the Knights of the KKK, maybe he shouldn't have a platform on this social media site!"
David Duke is a professional hatemonger. That is what he represents to the world now and what he has represented for the past several decades. Even if he was just sharing pictures of cross-stitches he did, giving him a platform on Twitter just like any other ol' person conferred on him the respectability he has always craved. However bad he was, he wasn't so bad that they kicked him off Twitter. That says something to people. And now he's gone. That's a step in the right direction.
Let's hope they do Richard Spencer next.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse