Over the past 24 hours, Leslie Jones has been inundated with racist, hateful vitriol on Twitter.
Jones is the brilliant, radiant co-star of the new all-lady reboot of Ghostbusters. The trolling on Twitter appears to have been sparked by a review of the film published on Monday by Breitbart editor and infamous internet troll Milo Yiannopoulos. In the review, Yiannopoulos called Jones “spectacularly unappealing” and panned her Ghostbusters character’s “flat-as-a-pancake black stylings.”
Throngs of racist, misogynistic tweeters fired at Jones with horrific insults.
Jones, seeking to expose her trolls and the dark underbelly of abuse on Twitter, began retweeting her haters and firing back.
Unfortunately, subduing trolls on Twitter is not as easy as taking out ghosts with a proton pack. Yiannopoulos responded by insulting Jones directly on the platform, inciting his troll army of followers to target her with even more ferocity.
At one point, Yiannopoulos even began tweeting out obviously fake tweets masquerading as tweets from Jones herself. Though it is unclear whether Yiannopoulos actually authored the falsified tweets himself or simply shared them, it was clearly an attempt to further smear Jones online.
Late Monday night, Jones signed off from Twitter. “I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart,” she tweeted. “All this cause I did a movie. You can hate the movie but the shit I got today…wrong.”
Update: On Tuesday night, Twitter permanently banned Yiannopoulus from its platform. “Over the past 48 hours in particular, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of Tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension,” Twitter said in a statement.
Jones’ experience is merely a high-profile example of the kinds of abuse that persist for many people on Twitter—especially women of color. Over the past year, Twitter has taken many steps to signal to the world that it takes harassment seriously: it has banned revenge porn, issued new anti-harassment rules, established a trust and safety council and de-verified high-profile users (like Yiannopoulos) that it considers abusive. But enforcement of those policies is still woefully inconsistent and which tweets actually violate company policy is opaque at best. One Twitter moderator might take down a tweet that includes a death threat, but another might not.
Twitter did not respond to my request to clarify which specific tweets against Jones violated the company’s rules. A spokesperson did tell me that “this type of abusive behavior is not permitted on Twitter” and that the company has “taken action on many of the accounts reported to us by both Leslie and others.”
He continued: “We rely on people to report this type of behavior to us but we are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to prevent this kind of abuse. We realize we still have a lot of work in front of us before Twitter is where it should be on how we handle these issues.”
It is likely, though, that if Jones were not such a high-profile figure, much of the abuse that Twitter has acted on would likely go on without interference, even if it were to be reported. Twitter’s abusive behavior policy is perhaps purposefully vague. Violent threats are a no-no, as are attacks predicated on race and gender, but you can still call someone a fair number of names on Twitter and be in the clear.
To that end, Jones called on Twitter to implement clearer guidelines and to take a stronger, more proactive approach to stamping out abuse.
An army of trolls was once again successful in forcing a person not just off Twitter, but off of a platform that gave them a space to speak out against the hate they were victims of. At this point it should be clear to Twitter that if it really wants to kill abuse on the platform, what it’s doing now is just not enough.