Let’s picture a scenario where a journalist sits across from one of the online world’s most powerful gatekeepers, notorious for a history of non-transparent policy enforcement and privacy invasions, that devolves into a dense trial by podcast for conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones. During the Tuesday episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, where independent political pundit Tim Pool conducted a hostile interview with Twitter executives CEO Jack Dorsey and legal-policy chief Vijaya Gadde, audiences were taught why you shouldn’t invite a cocky ideologue to do a proper reporter’s job.
Let’s also be charitable: it’s easy for someone to play partisan when this scenario involves a questioner who could face the firing line of censorship on the very platform in question. No doubt tensions are high when a personified monopoly, sitting across the podcast table, has your online interests within its hands. This, however, doesn’t excuse lackluster work.
After a slew of right-wing commentators accused Rogan of soft-balling his original discussion with Dorsey, one of big tech’s most controversial figures, the comedian admitted this conversation deserved knowledgable titans—brought together to debate the platform’s perceived record of liberal bias.
The discussion often involved Pool’s invoking of anecdotes where former users among the political right — which included the likes of Alex Jones, Gavin McInnes, Milo Yiannopolous, Sargon of Akkad, Jacob Wohl and many more — were seemingly subjected to unfair policy enforcement based on Twitter. Gadde then explained these case sometimes involved uses of fraudulent abuse of the verification system, perceived incitement of violence against protected classes and specific users, the spread of defamatory information, footage of child abuse, doxxing (maliciously publishing identifying information about an individual) and countless others throughout the video. Pool, however, contrasted this treatment with egregious infringements coming from known leftist accounts, such as ANTIFA and celebrities calling for the private information of conservative high school students (à la Kathy Griffin and the Covington kids), asking why their accounts remained untouched.
Already framing a narrative of “us versus them,” evidenced by Pool’s assumptions of a slant being the result of direct political activism, this culminated in accusations of the policies being beholden to leftist ideology by design. This was immediately rejected by Dorsey and Gadde — noting their platform of 321 million monthly users is both littered with cross-country audiences and has no underlying theme of politics — though Pool continued to cite the recent ban on misgendering transgender individuals as a dogmatic bias towards leftism. Gadde refuted this by explaining the policy is instead “behavior-based” aimed to mitigate “targeted harassment” which the named individuals frequently violate — at least, according to Twitter’s version of events.
“You do [police information],” Pool declared. “You have a specific rule for one set of people and there — so there are people who have general body dysphoria. You don’t have rules on that. There are people who have actually amputated their own arms. You don’t have rules on that. You have a very specific rules-set and more importantly, in the context of a targeted conversation, I can say a whole bunch of things that could never be considered a rule-break but that one is which is ideologically driven.”
“It is an ideology,” Rogan added, referencing feminist author Megan Murphy who was removed based on the cited rule. “[If] saying a man is never a woman, if that is what she’s saying, and then biologically she’s correct we obviously have a debate here. This is something that you have to acknowledge [when] there is an understanding that someone who is a trans person, we all agree to consider them a woman and to think of them as a woman, to talk to them, to address them with their preferred names and preferred pronouns. But biologically this is not accurate. We have a divide here [where] the conservative estimation of what’s happening [is different] then the definition that’s liberal.”
This forced Gadde to reiterate the company’s intent around targeted harassment, which their own TOS rules define as “behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.” Pool and Rogan, unfortunately, conflate general discussions of transgender legitimacy with actively engaging transgender users with mistreatment through deadnaming and misgendering — which is commonly known as the act of mocking through using birth names and birth genders as a means of conversational intimidation.
Gadde immediately justifies the response by citing the peer-reviewed research on LGBT bullying from the American Academy of Pediatrics and statistics from the UN Human Rights Council linking this behavior to “major risk factors” contributing to the record-high suicide rates among transgender communities (which range from 35% to 50% across multiple countries). With all this in context, it forces us to wonder if this is the state of the intellectual right. Where mere protections from bullying and harassment “is at odds with conservatives — period”? Is cracking down on this mocking behavior truly inherent to an ideology? Is this the liberal bias we keep hearing so much about? Or is Pool only seeing biased censorship where basic safety protections apply?
“I think that’s right, Joe,” Gadde conceded on the differing definitions. “I hear your point of view and I’ll definitely discuss with our team. I understand why people would not agree with the rule, but that being said, it is a rule on our platform and once you are warned about the rule to repeatedly and post the same content it’s also going to be a violation of our rules… Our intent is not to police ideology, however. Our intent is to police behaviors and platforms that we view as harmful, abusive and harassment used to silence people. I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s not that you can’t have those viewpoints. If you’re taking those viewpoints to target at a specific person in a way that reflects your intent to abuse and harass them, then we take action.”
Where both Rogan and Pool disappoint is their questioning of action.
Gadde notes a “three strike policy” where infringers face varying degrees of punishments depending on prior history. This can result in the deletion of tweets, temporary suspensions from hours to weeks and finally complete termination of one’s account — also lying about there being an appeals process by which users can request a manual review of their content. Instead of jumping on this lie, Pool diverts to whataboutisms regarding ANTIFA groups, which he demanded removed due to his personal history of doxxing and harassment, where Gadde already admitted to being unaware of his cases.
She followed this up by adding that while the system often makes “mistakes” through ignored cases, some accounts are only at the first two stages of the enforcement process — raising questions whether Pool was inadvertently demanding a one-strike response to leftists based on his own feelings. It quickly turned into a debate regarding offensive behavior under protected classes and how it affects white people — further raising concerns over whether Twitter’s face-to-face critics are themselves pushing for the same form of censorship against leftists.
“Why can you mock white people ad nauseam and it’s not a problem?” Rogan asked. “What is racism? Is racism only — this is this progressive perspective of racism that it’s only possible if you’re from a more powerful class, someone punching down, that’s the only racism. I don’t think that makes any sense. I think racism is looking at someone that is from whatever race and deciding that they are in fact less or less worthy or less valuable, whatever it is. That takes place across the platform against white people. I’m not saying that white people need to be protected,” Rogan clarifies, “but it’s hypocritical to have a policy that only distinguishes you can make fun of white people all day long but if you decide to make fun of Asian folks or fill-in-the-blank, that is racist but making fun of white people isn’t and it doesn’t get removed.”
This contrasts horribly with their stances of #LearnToCode, a viral hashtag which resulted in several accounts being served TOS strikes (including my own tweet critiquing Pool’s reporting efforts). For context, the term was originally just a humorous reference to articles from leftist journalists arguing laid-off blue-collar workers should simply learn the complex trade of computer programming. This was later used in parody against leftist journalists laid-off from their publications. Suddenly, once the unaccountable one-strikes are made against fellow anti-SJW users such as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, it’s a censorship crisis.
Dorsey and Gadde dodged answering why the term itself was considered a violation at the time — frankly because there is no good answer — though the two eventually conceded their platform “were probably way too aggressive” in their issuing of strikes. According to their podcast statements, these strikes were apparently delivered by both their AI systems and their privately hired teams who “lacked context” on the matter. It took almost two hours for the hosts to briefly focus on the heart of Twitter’s administrative problems — Twitter, a social media hub that has become an integral part of many democratic societies, lacking ANY form of a democratic due process by which users are fairly judged by both their peers and administrators informed about their infringements.
As Pool’s arguments largely centered around a partisan narrative of skewed policies in favor of an ideology, the capitalist infrastructure is given five minutes of screen time in their mentioning of Periscope — the Twitter-owned streaming service where content policies are enforced by around 1000+ users judging whether there’s a legitimate infringement, giving administrators a ruling of decentralized impartiality.
Pool’s opposition, in general, could have been prepared. Twitter, after all, is known for its privacy invasions. The podcast failed to mention any of the platform’s numerous scandals of data infringement, such as the case from Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) which launched an investigative probe into the alleged tracking of users through special shortened t.co links. This was brought forth by privacy researcher Michael Veale (University College London) who directly requested his personal data from Twitter, which is his right under the EU’s GDPR laws, and was declined.
While the offenses are expected to cost Twitter over $23.2 million in fines, reimbursing users for each violation, these still fly under the radar in favor of the political non-stories on display throughout the episode. The podcast ended on a fairly positive note, with Dorsey and Gadde conceding ground on the platform needing serious improvements in the areas of doxxing, communication, transparency and infrastructure, though the affair ultimately demonstrates the inability of partisans to break through their culture war posturing and actually hold the powerful to account.