For some, a leap into Twitter withdrawal
Alex Jones dressed as a frog, while Loomer shackled herself to door
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.
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.