The Weinstein scandal has created shockwaves reaching far beyond Hollywood politics. Recently, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has been faced with freedom of speech complaints after actress Rose McGowan’s Twitter account was suspended soon after she posted tweets in connection with the sexual harassment and assault allegations against Weinstein. An outspoken supporter of women’s rights and critic of Hollywood sexism, McGowan posted tweets directly confronting A-List celebrities including Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. She believed that they had been aware of Weinstein’s alleged behavior and used Twitter to spread that message. A couple of days after those tweets, the actress took to Instagram to post a screenshot of a message she received from Twitter that detailed a ban placed on her account. The revelation was met with outrage by Twitter users who began a #WomenBoycottTwitter campaign.
In response, Twitter claimed that the ban placed on McGowan’s account was due to her posting a private telephone number, an action which violates their Terms of Service. This is just one in a string of events that has illuminated Twitter’s “arbitrary and opaque” Terms of Service and their equally flimsy enforcement. The issue, as explained in a Deadline article, is Twitter’s ambiguous process for determining which tweets are protected by free speech and which tweets constitute abuse. In a time when nearly every thought and opinion is posted online, including those of President Trump, the line of free speech has been blurred. Twitter consistently receives backlash for making that line seem especially arbitrary, moving it around based on the topic at hand and who happens to be tweeting about it. Twitter has also indicated the subjective nature of their policies, revealing that “newsworthiness and public interest” play a role in deciding whether to flag a tweet or account. Jack Dorsey stated that Twitter intends to continue to work on their policies and increase manpower to ensure that voices such as those of Ms. McGowan are not silenced on the social media platform.
Jenna El-Fakih is an Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2020).