By Savannah Smith  |  12-12-2016   News
Photo credit: The Goldwater

" I'm back."

With just two words, prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer announced his return to Twitter after the social media site reinstated his account nearly a month after suspending it in controversial fashion.

Twitter suspended the account of Spencer a week after the U.S. presidential election in what was widely believed to be the popular social network's " purging" of alt-right leaders and figures, following some calls from groups and individuals accusing Spencer and others for perpetuating hatred with their posts and violating Twitter's policy prohibiting harassment, incitement and hate speech. Strangely, Twitter suspended Spencer's account for a different reason, that of creating and maintaining multiple accounts with overlapping uses.

Many believed, however, that Twitter's action on Spencer's account was politically-motivated, that he was being penalized for his views, and that banning his account was a form of censorship that can have a chilling effect on the country's much-valued and vaunted consititutionally-protected free speech. Critics of Twitter's move also hit its attempt to hide behind technicalities in defending its action, while others see the platform's decision as lacking spine, for Twitter's failure to call a spade and say outright what Spencer's real violation was.

Richard Spencer is the president and director of the National Policy Institute and is credited with coining the term " alt-right". The movement is a loosely organized far-right group that espouses white nationalism. The group strongly supported President-elect Donald Trump in his campaign and eventual election.

Spencer also became more popular after a video of him surfaced shouting " Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory" at a Washington, D.C. conference as members of the crowd raised their hands in a Nazi salute.

Twitter's reinstatement of Spencer's account comes at a time marked by difficult complexities on its policy as it grapples with public backlash on what many perceive as its arbitrary decisions and actions against contentious accounts. Many of the account suspensions Twitter has undertaken following Trump's victory, most prominently that of Spencer, have been seen more as penalty for certain viewpoints, and not really for online behavior. It is the arbitrariness behind its decisions on account suspensions that opens Twitter to much public scrutiny and discontent. From political observers to free speech advocates to regular netizens, many are asking if Twitter is being fair and consistent with its expected mandate to be non-partisan and not to be partial to any view point or world view, no matter if such views depart from the personal beliefs of Twitter's owners, executives and officers.

A number of Trump's supporters also score Twitter for being hostile to the President-elect, which very recently also " contemplated" on killing the account of Trump himself supposedly on the pretext that it also encourages hate speech. It seems to have backed down anew from such threat following backlash from Trump's supporters.

Spencer shared to his followers that he had to lobby hard for Twitter to reactivate his personal account, while he still waiting for his other group accounts to be reinstated as well- a practice, by the way, that many individuals and groups also do, that is running individual as well as group or organizational Twitter accounts simultaneously. Quick observers say Spencer was also back to form, tweeting about stuff in line with his beliefs, but which some fear might get him into trouble with Twitter again. Twitter maintains a three strike policy, and another transgression by Spencer can make Twitter suspend his account permanently.

It is one thing to choose to believe or disagree with Spencer- or anyone else's- views and advocacies, it is another kill to his or anyone else's right to say his beliefs in a platform that is popular because it is accessible. Perhaps, in view of many credibility questions haunting it recently, Twitter ought to engage in a much-needed soul-searching of its own. Is it just a social network site and a platform? Is it objective and neutral? If yes, can it keep it that way? Or does it prefer to take on an all-new role of being the country's censor, moral guardian ,judge and jury all at the same time? If yes to all these, where on the whole wide web, or earth for that matter, does it get the authority and audacity to do so? The public has certainly not given its anointment.

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