For some, a leap into Twit­ter with­drawal

Alex Jones dressed as a frog, while Loomer shack­led her­self to door

The Washington Post - - STYLE - BY AVI SELK

If you want to know the en­tire back­story about Alex Jones and frogs, look else­where. Some­thing about the gov­ern­ment “putting chem­i­cals in the wa­ter that TURN THE FRIGGIN' FROGS GAY!,” as Jones once screamed while pound­ing a fist into his desk in the In­fowars stu­dio — a few years be­fore he and his fake news net­work were banned by Twit­ter, Face­book, YouTube and Ap­ple this sum­mer.

But prob­a­bly no back­story can fully ex­plain why Jones dressed up as a frog in a tutu on Hal­loween and begged in baby talk: “In­fowars is sowwy! Please let us back on Twit­ter!”

It worked, kind of. The clip spread vi­rally this week­end on the same plat­forms from which Jones has been ex­iled. But it was shared mainly by peo­ple who de­spised him and who en­joyed watch­ing him grovel for his Twit­ter ac­count like Gol­lum in the throes of ring with­drawal.

Is Twit­ter ad­dic­tion real, as op­posed to just a joke peo­ple make about Pres­i­dent Trump? Some re­searchers and ther­a­pists think so. And if so, Twit­ter with­drawal is a pos­si­bil­ity.

Still, we don’t claim to know what goes on in the minds of pro­lific tweet­ers whose pub­lic streams of con­scious­ness are sud­denly cut off — which hap­pened to many con­ser­va­tive so­cial me­dia stars this year, as tech giants

tight­ened their be­hav­ior poli­cies. We cer­tainly don’t sug­gest their dis­com­fort is com­pa­ra­ble to a drug ad­dict’s with­drawal pains. But judg­ing from the pub­lic scenes some of them have made, it doesn’t look pleas­ant.

On Thurs­day, the right-wing jour­nal­ist Laura Loomer put on a yel­low Star of David badge — the same style “Nazis made the Jews wear dur­ing the Holo­caust,” she ex­plained through a bull­horn as she hand­cuffed her­self to the front door of Twit­ter’s of­fice in New York.

Loomer pro­ceeded to com­plain to passersby, live-stream view­ers and even­tu­ally re­spond­ing po­lice of­fi­cers that Twit­ter had sus­pended her ac­count ear­lier in the week. She felt the ban was part of a re­pres­sion cam­paign against con­ser­va­tives, though a Twit­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tive said that Loomer had re­peat­edly vi­o­lated its rules, and the com­pany has de­nied tak­ing users’ pol­i­tics into ac­count when it pun­ished bad ac­tors.

She propped a blown-up print­out of an of­fend­ing tweet against the door and vowed not to un­chain her­self un­til the “hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion that is be­ing per­pet­u­ated and aided by these dic­ta­tors … in Sil­i­con Val­ley” had ended.

When no dic­ta­tors im­me­di­ately emerged to re­pent, a po­lice of­fi­cer asked Loomer if she wanted help un-cuff­ing her­self.

“I want my Twit­ter!” Loomer said.

“Do you want us to cut you from the door?” the of­fi­cer asked again.

“I wish I could say some­thing, but Twit­ter and Face­book won’t let me speak,” Loomer said.

About an hour later, she let po­lice cut off her hand­cuffs and went home.

Like Jones’s frog cos­play, footage of protest was widely mocked on so­cial me­dia, treated al­ter­nately as slap­stick com­edy or a tonedeaf be­lit­tle­ment of Holo­caust vic­tims. Loomer called it a vic­tory none­the­less. “It turned out great, prob­a­bly bet­ter than I ever hoped for,” she told an in­ter­viewer. “Be­cause I ended up trend­ing.”

Gavin McInnes de­scribed his Twit­ter habit as a lit­eral ad­dic­tion af­ter he and the far-right Proud Boys or­ga­ni­za­tion he cre­ated were deemed a “vi­o­lent ex­trem­ist group” and banned from the plat­form in Au­gust.

“I’m ac­tu­ally kind of glad; I was ad­dicted to it,” McInnes said. “My brain was start­ing to think in a Twit­ter men­tal­ity. My tooth­paste would fall side­ways and I’d go: ‘Looks like my tooth­paste is drunk! Oh, that’s a tweet.’ ”

He made this ob­ser­va­tion dur­ing an hour-long video ret­ro­spec­tive about his fi­nal 20 tweets.

Loomer and McInnes have both said they may sue Twit­ter. If so, they’ll be tak­ing ad­vice of­fered to Milo Yiannopolous in 2016, when the con­ser­va­tive writer went to the White House to com­plain about los­ing a spe­cial blue check mark on his Twit­ter pro­file, which used to con­fer a sort of elite sta­tus on the plat­form.

“My ver­i­fi­ca­tion check was taken away for mak­ing jokes about the wrong group of peo­ple,” Yiannopolous said in the press brief­ing room.

“I’m not ex­actly sure what sort of gov­ern­ment pol­icy de­ci­sion could have an in­flu­ence on that,” White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest replied. “If there are ci­ti­zens who feel their con­sti­tu­tional rights are be­ing vi­o­lated in some way, they have the op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress that in a court of law.”

Yiannopolous was banned from Twit­ter en­tirely a few months later, as part of a crack­down on racist abuse against “Ghost­busters” ac­tor Les­lie Jones. Like Loomer, he has threat­ened to sue the com­pany.

James Woods was rel­a­tively re­strained when he and his 26,000 tweets were sus­pended from the site in Septem­ber. The Os­carnom­i­nated ac­tor turned polemi­cist threat­ened no law­suit and staged no protest. He com­pared his pun­ish­ment to a sim­ple mur­der, rather than the Holo­caust.

“If you want to kill my free speech, man up and slit my throat with a knife, don’t smother me with a pil­low,” Woods told the As­so­ci­ated Press.

He had shared a hoax meme that en­cour­aged men to in­crease women’s vot­ing power by sit­ting out the midterm elec­tion, which Twit­ter con­sid­ered a po­ten­tial threat to democ­racy. See­ing him­self as an­other vic­tim of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s con­ser­va­tive purge, Woods re­fused to delete the post on prin­ci­ple and re­mained sus­pended for more than two weeks, his tweet rate crash­ing from some­times dozens per day to zero.

Reached by phone this week, Woods re­called the ban as a time of seren­ity. “I lit­er­ally felt so re­lieved that I had an ex­cuse never to be on Twit­ter again,” he said.

He found him­self with a sud­den abun­dance of free time, no longer writ­ing “lib­tard” tweets in the morn­ing or insulting the moth­ers of crit­ics in his re­ply threads in the evening. He watched the ul­tra-par­ti­san Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion bat­tle over Brett M. Ka­vanaugh and told his girl­friend: “It’s a good thing I’m not on Twit­ter. I’d ei­ther be dead or in jail.”

Woods said he was sit­ting in his house one day in early Oc­to­ber, learn­ing to play gui­tar with on­line videos, when friends in­formed him that his ac­count had been re­ac­ti­vated.

“I lit­er­ally said, ‘Oh, Je­sus,’ ” he re­called.

Still, Woods de­nies that he ever had a Twit­ter prob­lem. He says he’s get­ting bored with tweet­ing, has al­ready slowed down and will prob­a­bly give it up com­pletely “very soon.”

Any­time now. He’ll quit any time he wants.

Woods hung up the phone and tweeted again 20 min­utes later.

[email protected]­


Alex Jones, host of the In­fowars ra­dio show, talks to re­porters at the Dirk­sen Se­nate Of­fice Build­ing in Septem­ber. Jones was banned from Twit­ter and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms this sum­mer.

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