Here's the remarkable letter Chuck Johnson's attorney sent to Twitter threatening legal action
For at least the fourth time in his sad, shameful, misogynist, racist career, Twitter has suspended the rightwing blogger Chuck Johnson.
This expulsion came after Johnson solicited donations toward the goal of "taking out" civil rights activist DeRay McKesson. McKesson, who quit his job as a school administrator in Minnesota to join and cover the protests following Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, says he took the tweet "as a serious threat" and thus a violation of Twitter's policies against threatening acts of violence. Johnson claims it was not a death threat but rather a call to support "investigative journalism" into McKesson's past, presumably to discredit him.
Moreover, Johnson is outraged over the suspension, tweeting under a new account @citizentrolling-- which a few minutes prior to my writing this sentence has now also been suspended -- that Twitter is guilty of "censorship" and writing that the company's enforcement of its policies exhibits a clear political bias against rightwingers like himself.
"Twitter doesn’t seem to have a problem with people using their service to coordinate riots," Johnson wrote. "But they do have a problem with the kind of journalism I do."
I'm struggling to know where to begin in describing the lunacy of Johnson's argument. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't engage at all with Johnson who has failed to build a career through producing quality journalism or analysis and instead -- in what must be an overwhelmingly sad discovery -- has found that the only thing anyone will pay him for anymore is to spew hatred at the most vulnerable members of society, in particular rape victims. But his complaints raise some important misconceptions about Twitter, free speech, and who controls what can or can't be said in the new digital content paradigm.
Now it appears that Johnson is threatening legal action against Twitter for loss of income that would otherwise be generated by his hateful tweets. Johnson emailed me the letter his attorneys sent to Twitter demanding the reinstatement of his accounts, attached in full below. What makes it so absurd is the notion that Twitter is somehow guilty of "censorship" or that the company owes him a living.
The Constitution bars the government from passing any law that infringes on one's freedom to say whatever they like. But there is no law prohibiting corporations from preventing a troll like Johnson from using their services or resources to speak their mind. Twitter has every legal right to ban whomever it pleases, regardless of the merits of what that person has to say. It doesn't matter whether Johnson's tweets meet the legal threshold for what constitutes threats, abuse, or harassment. In this case, that determination is up to Twitter and Twitter alone to decide. It can ban a person for buying fake followers, for tweeting violent images, or for spreading hate speech. To be completely frank, it can ban a user simply because it doesn't like that person. If I were to enter Twitter's headquarters and hang a pornographic photo in its lobby, nobody would complain if Twitter removed the photo. And banning relentless trolls like Johnson is no different.
More to the point, while Twitter may have started as a communication tool, not unlike a telephone or some other utility, Twitter is now a public and for-profit company, and one whose advertising model is more akin to that of a media company like NBC or CBS. Therefore, barring Johnson from using its service to broadcast his message is the same as a television station failing to renew a talk show because its hosts' controversial or hateful statements had compelled advertisers to pull their support. Johnson can stand in Times Square and spread his crazy hate-speech, but neither Twitter nor any other company "owes" him a digital platform for it. This is the bargain users sign up for when they join Twitter, and so to invoke "censorship" or "free speech" in this context is deeply disingenuous.
But perhaps the most remarkable thing about the letter is how it clashes with Johnson's GOP bonafides. Chuck, my man, I'm afraid your argument is -- dare I say it -- pronouncedly leftwing. The letter suggests that Twitter has a "monopolistic position" in terms of how information is shared and spread in today's digital landscape; and that therefore the company has a responsibility to the public interest that transcends its God-given freedom to do business as it sees fit, and that transcends the wider of interests of shareholders and advertisers. Never mind that Twitter's "monopolistic" control over information pales in comparison to that of Google or Facebook, or what Johnson characterizes as the public's interest is really just "Chuck Johnson's interest." The message of the letter is clear -- and it's also the most populist and anti-corporate thing he's ever written. I imagine most of Chuck’s GOP friends will be shocked to learn that he believes corporations should put the public interest over private profit motivations, and that Twitter’s private property is also the property of the public.
So here's to Chuck Johnson, progressive hero.
Read the full letter below:
[illustration by Brad Jonas]