Twitter needs to get its act together
When a politician can call for the mass death of an entire group of people and still stay on a platform, it becomes one I don't want to be associated with.
Over the weekend, I saw a series of tweets that just… genuinely set me off. And I want to talk about it. (There’s going to be some discussion of some really awful anti-trans/anti-LGBTQ rhetoric here, so consider this your warning.)
Robert Foster is a former member of the Mississippi House of Representatives and failed 2019 candidate for governor. If you’ve heard of him before this very moment, it’s probably because of the time during his failed run for governor that he blocked Mississippi Today’s Larrison Campbell from traveling with him on a campaign trip because he “believed the optics of the candidate with a woman, even a working reporter, could be used in a smear campaign to insinuate an extramarital affair.”
But that’s not the reason I’m writing about him today. No, I want to talk about the tweets he sent starting on Thursday night.
In these tweets, which began with him writing, “Some of y’all still want to try and find political compromise with those that want to groom our school aged children and pretend men are women, etc. I think they need to be lined up against wall before a firing squad and to be sent to an early judgment.”
He went on to say that “adults that groom children into dressing like the opposite sex, telling them they can be a different sex, encouraging them to take hormone treatments to ‘transition’ and ultimately have surgery to remove their sex organs, I propose they be given the death penalty.” He followed this by saying he preferred death by firing squad because he’s “a southern gentleman and it’s a very efficient & civilized way of disposing of evil,” and added that it’d be “too costly and time consuming” to go with his preferred method of execution of throwing them to their death from helicopters.”1
He then goes on to add that “Adult groomers of transgendered children are all pedophiles,” and that “Pedophiles deserve the death penalty.”
A few things first.
Foster is defining “groomer” as anyone who supports trans people and their right to be who they know themselves to be. This has very recently become a very common trope on the right.
But that’s not what “grooming” is.
In a 2015 block post for the American Bar Association, Daniel Pollack and Andrea MacIver define “sexual grooming” as “a preparatory process in which a perpetrator gradually gains a person’s or organization’s trust with the intent to be sexually abusive. The victim is usually a child, teen, or vulnerable adult.” In short: grooming is when an adult forms a relationship with a child for the purpose of exploiting that child sexually at a future date.
Grooming is not the same thing as supporting LGBTQ children. Grooming is not the same as acknowledging that LGBTQ people exist.
Know what’s an actual example of “grooming?” When a 15-year-old girl in Mississippi was forced to marry a 43-year-old man. Why did that happen? Because it’s still legal in Mississippi to basically sell girls off to be child brides. But bizarrely (not at all bizarrely) Foster didn’t use his time in office to call for the death penalty for the old-ass men who marry children in his state, nor did he even move to change the law to prevent future child marriages. Foster has no problem with actual grooming.
But I want to talk about Twitter, what it’s done, what it hasn’t done, and what it needs to do.
A handful of Foster’s tweets have been removed. He even got put in time out for a few hours. But as you can see, his profile remains. He even cracked a little joke about it! Har har, super funny!
But that’s not good enough.
Let’s look at a few excerpts from Twitter’s “hateful conduct policy.” (Emphasis mine):
Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.
Okay, so here we’ve established that under Twitter’s rules, LGBTQ people are absolutely covered by threats that fall under “hateful conduct.” Moving on…
We prohibit content that wishes, hopes, promotes, incites, or expresses a desire for death, serious bodily harm, or serious disease against an entire protected category and/or individuals who may be members of that category. This includes, but is not limited to:
Saying that a group of individuals deserve serious physical injury, e.g., “If this group of [slur] don’t shut up, they deserve to be shot.”
And this establishes that saying that members of a protected group (LGBTQ people, as established in the last point) “deserve serious physical injury” (calling for the death penalty for this group absolutely falls under this category) is a violation of these policies. Moving on again…
Incitement against protected categories
We prohibit inciting behavior that targets individuals or groups of people belonging to protected categories. This includes content intended:
to incite fear or spread fearful stereotypes about a protected category, including asserting that members of a protected category are more likely to take part in dangerous or illegal activities, e.g., “all [religious group] are terrorists.”
By calling all people who “groom our school aged children’ (keep in mind that he isn’t using the word “groom” here correctly) “and pretend that men are women” (by which he means “believe trans women are women”), and then later adding that “adult groomers of transgendered children are all pedophiles” and that “pedophiles deserve the death penalty” (again, keeping in mind that he defines “groom” as essentially providing support to trans people, generally), he is absolutely violating Twitter’s rule saying you cannot “incite fear or spread fearful stereotypes about a protected category, including asserting that members of a protected category are more likely to take part in dangerous or illegal activities, e.g. "‘all [religious group] are terrorists.”
If you say that people who support trans kids “are all pedophiles,” then you’re very clearly violating that rule. It’s simple. To make it even clearer, Foster followed up with the Mississippi Free Press to clarify his remarks:
“I said what I said. The law should be changed so that anyone trying to sexually groom children and/or advocating to put men pretending to be women in locker rooms and bathrooms with young women should receive the death penalty by firing squad.”
Again, by “men pretending to be women,” he’s referring to trans women. This is as blatant as it gets.
Twitter needs to actually enforce its rules or change the rules. It cannot have it both ways.
Yes, Twitter occasionally takes action against anti-trans attacks. It’s rare, though, and usually just seems to be out of fear of bad press more than anything else. And if the worst thing to happen to these accounts is just that they get put in time out for 12 hours every once in a while, Twitter isn’t actually enforcing anything.
Twitter’s rules also prohibit misgendering and deadnaming2 trans people, but that certainly isn’t being enforced in any meaningful way. I get called a man on Twitter several times a day, will report the tweets, and then either get a note saying that no violation was found or hear nothing at all for days only to hear that “action was taken” but that the account is still active and tweeting anti-trans stuff.
I complain about this specifically because this is what Twitter’s rules say. You don’t see me criticizing Gettr or Gab or 4chan or Truth Social or any of those other platforms. Why? Because they’ve created absolutely no expectation that such posts are inappropriate. If Twitter came right out and said, “Hey, it’s going to be a free-for-all,” I might not want to spend time on the platform anymore, just as I haven’t joined those other platforms.
I’ve written about this before (see the below piece from The Verge), and maybe I’ll tackle it again in the future, but it really shouldn’t be too much to ask that platforms uphold their end of the user agreement.
It gets people who don’t want to face calls to be wiped out in a mass anti-trans genocide on its platform because of these rules. It knows that this is what users (and advertisers and investors) want to hear. At the same time, Twitter doesn’t want to lose the likes of Robert Foster and others who spend their days flouting those rules. As I’ve repeatedly said now, if Twitter wants to allow people who call for the genocide of users on its platform, it has every right to do that — but it shouldn’t lie about that.
When people complain that Twitter doesn’t “rigorously adhere” to the principle of complete and total unfettered "free speech,” as Elon Musk did the other day, I just don’t know what to think. Twitter doesn’t claim to be in favor of a total free-for-all. Twitter has rules that limit what you can and cannot say on the platform. The problem is that Twitter doesn’t actually enforce them in a meaningful way.
If Twitter wants to become an “anything goes” free-speech-absolutist cesspool, it can do that. It needs to start fresh with its user rules first.
“Throw people out of helicopters” is a sadly-common meme on the right. It was how Pinochet murdered people, and it’s what people like Erick Erickson would like to do to his political opponents.
“Misgendering” means referring to a trans girl or woman as “he” or “him” or a trans boy or man as “she” or “her;” “deadnaming” is when a trans person is referred to by the name they were given at birth as a means of delegitimizing their identity.