Last Thursday, I woke up to a big surprise. Every Twitter account that I had created or operated over the last four years was suspended—even accounts that I haven’t used for years. Some of these accounts were used for hobbyist purposes—to tweet about photography or science fiction, and other accounts were professional or corporate accounts that clients paid me to operate.
As for why these accounts were suspended? Twitter won’t say.
What’s strange is how each of these suspended accounts has been treated. For my personal Twitter account, I was asked to enter in a code that was sent to my email address—it is now unsuspended—with other accounts all I had to do to gain access again was enter in the email address associated with them, and for some of the suspended accounts, I had to file an appeal and hope that someone at Twitter realizes this whole thing was a mistake.
I’ve been tweeting professionally for almost 12 years and rarely have I ever got in trouble with Twitter—I’m not one for tweeting untoward content. Suspending every account, including client accounts (which I no longer operate), seems extremely excessive.
While my personal account is no longer suspended—many of my clients (former and present) still have accounts that are suspended because of their affiliation with me. On Thursday, I had to awkwardly call up everyone I’ve recently done business with and ask, “Is your Twitter account suspended? Sorry about that. Twitter is penalizing you for being my customer.”
Should any company have this power? Obviously, we live in a capitalist society, and nobody owes me, nor my customers, a platform but with private companies having a monopoly on public discourse, it seems wrong that I can’t simply remove my data from Twitter and go elsewhere. Vendor lock-in is all the starker when you’re locked out.
Ironically, I’ve been warned about this kind of thing for years—I just didn’t think it would happen to me.
It’s Time For Change
For two years, a group of tech activists and I have been calling for the decentralization of the social web. We’ve warned that social networks like Facebook and Twitter have accumulated too much power and are ill-equipped to decide who deserves a platform in the public square. Especially in these times of a pandemic, Facebook and Twitter are as close to a public square as we’ll ever have.
The bigger problem is that modern social networks aren’t just a communication utility—they act as editorial publishers. It’s Twitter that decides who deserves to be seen on their platform. If they don’t want you to be seen, they’ll find ways to get rid of you. When they do, there’s no recourse.
If you choose to use Twitter, they own your profile, your content, your communications, your data—your identity. What do they do with it all? They sell that data to the highest bidder.
Decentralists, like myself, believe it’s time to give people the power. It’s people who should decide whether or not the profiles they interact with are valid. They should decide who’s worth listening to. People should decide who they want to connect and share with.
As for me, it’s time to heed my own advice. It’s time to decentralize my Internet presence.