Twitter is in a difficult spot. It has permanently removed Milo Yiannopoulos, the tech editor of Breitbart, after he sent numerous tweets were inflammatory and, frankly, racist, targeting SNL and Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones.
Yiannopoulos had been temporarily removed from Twitter in the past for abusive tweets and the social media giant decided that calling Jones in the movie “a black character worthy of a minstrel show” was too much.
One of the issues here is free speech. Yiannopoulos, who is a self-proclaimed gay conservative, claims he is being made a scapegoat for the hundreds, maybe millions, of offensive tweets sent out each day.
He could be right and I admit it’s a difficult issue to parse. But I don’t think this is totally a free speech issue. It’s also a brand one. All companies must respond to change and what their target audience wants. That doesn’t mean you flip your brand over and over but that you have a brand that is sensitive to market forces that impact your target audience.
Twitter’s response to Yiannopoulos: Enough is enough.
Twitter is my go-to social media platform. (You can find me at @BrandGenius.) And I admit that most of my news is gathered there. (Well, that and NPR.) I follow reporters, other strategists like me, and many news outlets.
I have also been aware of the Wild West nature of tweeting. I see responses to tweets that are extremely offensive, rude and outright ignorant. To defend free speech means you have to take the good with the bad, right?
But I’ve also sensed a rising disgust among many users over those kinds of tweets. People are coming to the defense of the original tweet (the non-offensive one) and expressing their repugnance to the comments. In a way, by deleting Yiannopoulos, Twitter is responding to its audience. It may sound like censorship but I think it’s more of the equivalent of making sure the adult gift shops are not located in your neighborhood. Yiannopoulos can go to other social media platforms, but civility will remain here.
I thought about this more when considering the potential ouster of Roger Ailes at FOX News after reports of numerous incidents of sexual misconduct. No matter your politics, you have to admit FOX News has been a brilliant construction that still leads cable news ratings (especially during the current Republican convention). Ailes has been the architect of that.
But FOX News has chosen not to stand by him. Maybe there are other factors involved in his ouster, but my gut tells me that FOX News (and the Murdochs, who own it) are responding to a change in the market. More and more of us are opposing sexual misconduct. To maintain its relevancy, FOX News has made a business decision.
That’s what Twitter has done here. It has basically made Yiannopoulos an example that states that courtesy should be the rule of the platform. Twitter said it permanently deleted Yiannopouls because he violated “rules prohibiting participating in or inciting targeted abuse of individuals.”
To me, that’s the Twitter brand remaining relevant.