— -- Chris Loesch, the husband of CNN contributor Dana Loesch, is a Twitter victim. That much is certain. The question is whether his tormentors are a nefarious horde of liberal tweeters or a benevolent algorithm that snared him accidentally.
Here's what we know: Rebecca Hains, an assistant professor of communications at Salem State University in Massachusetts, tweeted a link at 5:10 p.m. ET on Sunday evening to an account of a Twitter dustup she had with Dana Loesch, a conservative commentator. The two had mixed it up over the politics of birth control, and Hains accused Loesch of distorting facts and sensationalizing her comments.
The tussle would have gone unnoticed had it not been spotted by Daniel Barber, a Bay Area freelance writer and Twitter bomb-thrower who goes by @DBarberHotnuke. (His profile picture is of a mushroom cloud.) After retweeting Hains' post, he went on to offer a few choice comments about Loesch, an affiliate of the late conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart:
After some scattered pushback, Barber elaborated:
No one ever said Twitter was civil. A half-hour later, Loesch's husband, Chris Loesch, dutifully responded:
Dana Loesch says she regularly receives hate mail, and usually her husband ignores it. This time he decided to respond. "When people are really rude, you can only look the other way so many times," he told Yahoo News. "You need to sometimes remind them people are watching."
Chris Loesch posted nearly 50 tweets in the next 45 minutes, retweeting messages from supporters and responding to others who he felt were maligning his wife. Around 9 p.m. on Sunday, Twitter suspended his account.
Several conservative sites arrived at the conclusion that Chris Loesch was the target of a coordinated campaign of liberals who reported his account as abusive. " He was apparently targeted by leftist users who utilized the 'Block & Report Spam' function to trigger the social media account's automatic spam algorithm," one Washington Times blogger wrote. Human Events, a less obliquely conservative outlet, called the campaign the work of "digital brown shirt gangs that make coordinated attacks to silence conservative voices by abusing Twitter's spam flagging feature." Supporters started a #FreeChrisLoesch hashtag. After he was briefly reinstated later that night and then summarily uninstated, the tag was appended to #FreeChrisLoeschAgain.
Hains, the user whose account of her argument with Dana Loesch sparked the mix up, connected Yahoo News with several users who say they routinely report misbehaving Twitter users as abusive. "I absolutely do advise people who are harassed by these hateful idiots to use block and report," a man named Charles Johnson responded in a tweet. There is no hard evidence, however, that such efforts alone can get a legitimate user removed if he or she is not actually being abusive.
Twitter has about 900 employees and 140 million active users, so like many companies with huge numbers of users they rely on algorithms to detect anomalous behavior. These secret algorithms are incredibly sophisticated in order to prevent people from cheating them, and they're generally very effective. A recent Berkeley study that deconstructed the algorithm found a fairly low degree of error in the site's detection system for malicious spammers.
Although calls and tweets from Yahoo News to multiple Twitter spokespeople went unanswered, the company is certainly accounting for factors other than pure numbers of people flagging accounts as spam. If that were the case, prominent voices of any political flavor would regularly vanish and reappear. (This Yahoo News reporter's experimental attempt to get himself suspended on Twitter by encouraging followers to report him as abusive was unsuccessful.)
More likely, Chris Loesch triggered a red flag at the Twitter headquarters by responding to well-wishers too zealously after rising to his wife's defense. Dana Loesch posted a screenshot of the warning page her husband received for his first suspension, which states that he was cut off for "sending multiple unsolicited mentions to other users." His rapid-fire retweeting of others in the immediate aftermath of his spat with Daniel Barber could well meet that definition.
Still, several outlets accept the idea that leftist thought police are systematically purging Twitter of conservative voices. The National Review Online writes that, "in recent days, left-wing users in America have taken to suppressing conservative accounts on Twitter. They have used Twitter's anti-spam measures to shut down conservative voices by flagging their accounts en masse as spam." But it is unlikely that Chris Loesch triggered a conspiracy. He just tweeted too much.
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