Twitter censored my tweet, locked my account

Surveillance Valley meets Immigrants as a Weapon

I sent out my last letter, posted it on Twitter, went out for the evening, came home and went to sleep, and in the morning…woke up to a nice dose of opaque corporate censorship.

Turns out that at some point in the night, Twitter locked my account for a tweet that stated plainly and satirically what has for years been the official policy of our political establishment — a sentiment that has been repeated over and over again during the impeachment hearings and spread around and which boils down to: “We gotta kill Russians in Ukraine or they’ll come and kill us here!

Although for some reason it does not show up in the email, the tweet was not a standalone statement posted without context. It linked to another tweet that quoted the letter I sent out last night that had discussed and criticized America’s destructive foreign policy in Ukraine and the dangerous “we are at war with Russia mentality” that underpins it. In short, there were plenty of reference points to show that my tweet was meant to be satirical. It clearly wasn’t just me calling on people to kill Russians.

It’s absurd, especially when you consider that someone like Stanford professor Pamela Karlan could say this — that we must fight and kill Russians in Ukraine — straight in front of Congress, be praised for her testimony, and have her words zip across Twitter with no repercussion of any kind. But none of that matters.

Twitter wants me to now delete the tweet in order to get my account back — all because the company doesn’t seem to recognize satire or sarcasm as acceptable and protected speech on its private platform.

Mark Ames sent a complaint to Twitter on my behalf and pointed out how insane it is:

“it’s ironic as hell you’re censoring Yasha Levine whose family emigrated from the Soviet Union and whose Moscow newspaper was shut down by the Kremlin — over an obviously sarcastically-worded tweet mocking official US policy in Ukraine. People say ‘Twitter doesn’t understand satire when it censors.’ Funny, neither did the Kremlin when it shut down our satirical newspaper The eXile for ‘disseminating extremism.’ Satire is not recognized by the Kremlin — or Twitter.”

What’s frustrating here is that I don’t know if it was Twitter’s bots that picked it up and the lockdown is a genuine misunderstanding, or if it was reported by people who disagreed with my politics and the lockdown is the result of a malicious targeted campaign — the kind that happen all the time on Twitter. Or maybe it was a combination of both. It’s impossible to tell. Welcome to transparency in the age of algorithmic censorship.

As someone who wrote the book on how the Internet is a product our national security establishment’s desire to create technologies for social and political control, I know how much platforms like Twitter are integrated into our government and security apparatus. I also know that this integration has only increased post-2016.

These exact nature of these partnerships and how they work on the backend is, of course, opaque and impossible to trace without whistleblowers or some sort of Congressional investigations into the inner workings of these companies — and there haven’t been any of those. But from information that drips out in public now and again, we know that Twitter (and Facebook and Google as well) work closely with outfits like the Atlantic Council and more often than not end up censoring pages and accounts that belong to critical journalists, activists, and the long list of America’s “official” enemies.

This integration is not restricted to America. For instance: recently a Twitter executive who oversees the platform’s editorial content for the Middle East was outed as a part-time member of the 77th Brigade, the British Army’s psychological warfare division. According to Middle East Eye, which broke the story, “The 77th Brigade uses social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, as well as podcasts, data analysis and audience research to wage what the head of the UK military, General Nick Carter, describes as ‘information warfare.’” Ooops. No conflict of interest there!

Anyway, I appealed Twitter’s censorship of the tweet. We don’t actually have any rights on these platforms. They are, after all, private property — no different than Walmart. So Twitter can do as it pleases and make me delete whatever it wants, no matter how much I protest.

Will update you when I hear back. All I can say now is that Immigrants as a Weapon finally met Surveillance Valley!

—Yasha Levine

UPDATE: Still censored by Twitter.

Immigrants as a Weapon is a new investigative newsletter that looks at the weaponization of nationalism and immigrant communities. Check out this introductory post and sign up to get subscriber-only stuff in your inbox!