Banned Twitter user, strident gay conservative pundit and Breitbart tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos is likely very afraid that he'll never be allowed to use Twitter again without Twitter, who is he really?
Thus he's on an aggressive campaign this week to claim his free speech rights, which includes a chalking campaign that some small group of individuals began this week outside Twitter offices in several cities, and on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as shown above. If we're to believe Breitbart, this grass-roots chalking campaign with the "#FreeMilo" hashtag has just appeared outside Twitter's offices in LA, Dublin, and now San Francisco. This follows on similar online campaigns among his fans dating to last year when Twitter began cracking down on and suspending Yiannopoulos, whom someone described as a cross between "a pitbull and Oscar Wilde," whose own friends unfollow him on Facebook, and whom most of us would describe as a troll with a flair for courting attention.
No doubt, as we saw with Yiannopoulos's recent Twitter dustup with Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones that got him permanently banned last week, he has a vicious, ego-serving agenda to stir the pot on topics of feminism, Donald Trump, Islam, gay rights, and political correctness. He's tested, multiple times, the limits of free speech on Twitter when it comes to having heated arguments that begin to look clearly like bullying and abuse something that started with the Gamergate controversy he covered in 2015, as Fusion reported, and continued when Twitter de-verified his account in January.
And true to character and indicative of the fact that he was an early adopter of the platform, Yiannopoulos has a four-letter handle he's no doubt sad to give up along with his 338,000 followers taken from the name of notoriously tyrannical, early Roman emperor Nero, whom some historians have suggested has been mischaracterized and who was actually popular among common people.
But here's the thing: Outside of the cacophonous, often moronic, @-filled scream chamber of Twitter, does anyone really care about Yiannopoulos or his increasingly repetitive, designed-to-be-angry-making rhetoric? He's a troll in the ultimate sense in that his very existence as a pundit seems to be defined by getting in fights with people, and then capitalizing upon and writing/talking about those fights. Donald Trump has the same MO, and that's likely why Yiannopoulos has been such an undying supporter most recently hosting a stunt-like "gays for Trump" rally in Cleveland, and earlier telling the New York Times Magazine how much he'd like to fuck Trump.
Take away Yiannopoulos's Twitter presence, and his hourly reach of 338,000+, and you deflate much of his power and relevance something that is no doubt driving him batshit insane right now, even though he plays it off like he doesn't need no stinkin' Twitter in the Times. "This is the beginning of the end for Twitter," he told the paper last week. "Some people are going to find this perfectly acceptable. Anyone who believes in free speech or is a conservative certainly will not."
Unsurprisingly, Yiannopolous is doing a full-court media press on all this controversy, giving the interview you see below today to CNN Money, playing the victim in this and saying, re: Leslie Jones, "If I crack a few jokes at the expense of a Hollywood mega-celebrity, who cares?"
Free speech has always had its limits, of course, and however you spin it, the incident with Jones had a social media mob mentality to it that Yiannopoulos clearly incited and stoked akin to shouting "fire" in a move theater just because you hate the all-female Ghostbusters. He also referred to her as "ugly," as a "black dude," and illiterate, which then led to hundreds of other rabid Twitterers ganging up on Jones to say even worse, and send her photos of gorillas.
The problem is, stuff like this does happen all the time to all kinds of people, though not at such high volume unless you have the reach of someone like Yiannopoulos or you're a movie star and getting Twitter to enforce their own abuse policy can be like pulling teeth for the average user. As Vox puts it, "Increasingly it seems as though the only way to get Twitter to take action against abuse is to be famous."
During yesterday's publicly broadcast earnings call, as Venturebeat reports, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey addressed the brewing controversy without ever mentioning Yiannopoulos by name but he's clearly holding his ground.
We’re a place for news and social commentary. At its best, the platform allows people to reach across the divide we recognize it’s a high hope to elevate civil discourse. I emphasize ‘civil discourse’. Abuse is not part of civil discourse. It shuts down conversation and prevents us from understanding one another. No one deserves to be a target of abuse online and it doesn’t have a place on Twitter.
Twitter has lost a lot of traction in the last two years, as I've written about on SFist before, with stagnant user growth and a perception among "normal people" that the platform is chaotic and confusing, and consequently its stock price has suffered. Bold moves like shutting down infamous trolls like Yiannopoulos are clearly a key piece of that, especially when they're as indignant, stubborn, and relentless as he's been.
"We named safety as one of our top five priorities for this year," Dorsey said, "and recent events have only confirmed that this is truly one of the most important things for us to improve, and has motivated us to improve even faster."
Just to parrot what most in the gay community would say to Milo, if this were Twitter: Bye, Felicia.