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12 October 2017updated 01 Jul 2021 12:13pm

Rose McGowan and Donald Trump: the curious case of what does and doesn’t constitute Twitter abuse

The actress is undergoing a 12-hour suspension from the site after swearing at Ben Affleck.

By New Statesman

Rose McGowan has violated the Twitter rules. This was what the social network told the actress in an email last night after – but not necessarily because – she sent a tweet telling actor Ben Affleck to “fuck off”.

“We’ve temporarily limited some of your account features,” Twitter told McGowan, who is unable to tweet, retweet, or like anything on the site for 12 hours. Twitter did not specify if it was the Affleck tweet that broke its rules, and McGowan has been prolifically tweeting about the Harvey Weinstein abuse allegations.

She targeted Affleck because she believes he was aware of Weinstein’s misconduct, something she alleged in another tweet. She is one of the most high-profile actresses to accuse Weinstein, alleging that he assaulted her in 1997.

In February, Twitter announced new regulations that were summed up by the Verge in the headline: “Twitter is locking accounts that swear at famous people”. A user’s account was frozen after she swore at the American vice-president, Mike Pence, and the 12-hour suspension was put in action. Despite the headline, Twitter told the Verge that its new abuse rules don’t distinguish between celebrity and “normal” accounts, and anyone could be frozen out if they have a “pattern” of abuse.

But here’s the fun part – no one really knows what that that means. Although Twitter has a page about its rules, the support page for people with locked or limited accounts doesn’t clarify which of these rules lead to a temporary block and which to a permanent suspension. Over the last year, Twitter has been repeatedly criticised for not blocking or banning people the public and papers consider abusive.  

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This means we are left to theorise on Twitter’s logic, but context clues suggest that the site’s policy looks something like this (where a ✘ indicates that someone should be silenced for 12 hours and a indicates that what they say is A-OK): 

 The leader of the free world violently and directly threatens North Korea with nuclear war

 An actress seeks justice for sexual assault victims and condemns the system which allowed their abuse  

Twitter explained at the time that they didn’t block Donald Trump because his tweet was “newsworthy” and in the public interest. Free-speech activists may find this admirable, but the question remains as to why McGowan wasn’t also protected by this loophole. Is an actress fighting systematic sexual abuse in her industry not “newsworthy”? Is it not in the public interest?  

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