On the most recent episode of ICYMI, Slate’s podcast about internet culture, co-hosts Rachelle Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher found an unusual angle on Donald Trump’s ban from Facebook by interviewing someone about their own experience with social media banishment. They called up legal journalist Rachel Stone, who was permanently banned from Twitter after she jokingly threatened the man who cautions you to take a break from scrolling through TikTok. A transcript of their conversation—which has been edited and condensed for clarity—is below.
Madison Malone Kircher: So how long had you been a Twitter user?
Rachel Stone: I would say probably around a decade. I made it my sophomore year in college. So quite some time of wasting time online.
Kircher: Yeah. Your brain is fully mush. It’s OK.
Rachelle Hampton: So take us through the moment that you got banned. What was the tweet? What prompted it? Just take me through that entire day.
Stone: OK. So it was a work night. I thought, like almost all other times, “I’m definitely going to go to bed at a respectable hour.” And then I lost a couple hours to scrolling through TikTok. And then—as happens when you spend way too much time on the app—there’s a little man who pops up who’s like, “Hey, you’ve been scrolling far too long. Get yourself some rest.” And I got kind of steamed at this, because I’m a grown woman. And I took a screenshot of him and posted a tweet that I thought would make fun of me more than anything, but I posted, “I will kill you,” with a little picture of the TikTok man. And then the next day in the middle of my work, I got an email notification that my tweet had violated Twitter’s terms of service for specifically tweeting a violent threat at a person or group of people. And I was like, “Surely someone will understand. Surely I’ll be able to tell someone, ‘Oh, this was a mistake. This wasn’t an actual person. It was instead the little man.’ ” But, one: That’s really difficult to explain. And two: It did not work.
Kircher: I feel like we should explain the little man. It is, in fact, a TikTok. So you’re scrolling and this TikTok video pops up, and it’s a human being. It’s not a cartoon. This is a real human person somewhere out there in the world being like, “Have a drink of water. Stretch your legs.”
Hampton: In Rachel’s defense, he has a very punchable face. Twitter, you can’t ban me for saying that, but he’s annoying. I feel like we can all admit that.
Kircher: So you get this email from Twitter. Were you given any opportunities to delete the tweet or perhaps be sent to temporary Twitter jail? Any sort of lesser punishment?
Stone: Definitely not. I went immediately online and searched various “what happens when you’ve been suspended” articles, and I got a lot of conservative blog posts that were like, “Here’s what to do when you’ve been silenced.” But I kind of thought, “This is temporary. This is going to last one to seven days.” There was no option. There was no “temporary” anywhere in that email, but they gave me the opportunity to appeal my account. So I wrote what I thought was a pretty comprehensive defense of “I know that this person is a real person, but in this instance he was not a real person.” And tried to appeal. I’ve appealed now probably 10 different times.
Hampton: That’s what I was going to ask. I was going to say that wasn’t the last appeal, was it?
Stone: Oh, no.
Hampton: How many appeals did you file? Tell me the tone of them as you kept going through this process.
Stone: So I took it as a challenge and kind of like a fun little quest of, “let me see what it would take to get me unsuspended.” And I did think it would be pretty easy if I was able to explain myself. So in the appeals I started out kind of like, “This was a joke, not aimed at an actual person, but aimed at this app function, TikTok Tips. That’s who it was at, everyone.”
And then I tried to appeal to their sensibilities as moderators. From a genuine perspective, I do understand what they’re trying to do. And then I started trying more of a legal tack and looking at the actual Twitter terms of service. It had only been a couple of days at this point, but I was really spinning out, so then I did a couple of other things, and I probably became a real menace to the Twitter Trust and Safety team. I went on LinkedIn and I determined that I could find anyone who worked on the Trust and Safety team and email them with pleas of my own. I found this professor who was also banned on Twitter for a similar thing and tried to email her. I didn’t hear back.
Hampton: You went on a real journey with this.
Stone: Oh yeah, it didn’t stop there.
Kircher: Please don’t stop then. Please continue.
Stone: Well, so then I went on Quora, and there was a Quora user in a 2012 conversation who had been helpful to someone who was banned. And I was able to track him down and find his email, and he actually responded. And he was like, “The world was very different than how it is now. Twitter is a very different company, but I can DM some of my friends to have them check out your appeal.” And then the last thing I did was I applied to a job at Twitter in the Trust and Safety team, but instead of a résumé, I included my—
Kircher: Wait. Wait, wait, wait. So a job you do not want? Are you qualified for the position?
Stone: Definitely not. And I told them that. In my first letter of my application, I said, “I’m a reporter, a longtime Twitter user. I apologize for wasting the time of whoever’s reviewing applications for the global lead for the Trust and Safety team because I am most definitely not qualified for this job.”
Kircher: That’s so innovative, and I think just fully indicative of a person who should be allowed back on Twitter. Your brain doesn’t break like that unless you’ve spent a decade on this platform.
Stone: That’s what I’m saying. I think this might get me permanently exiled. They might be so annoyed at all of my emails.
Kircher: Your face is now on the security desk of all Twitter offices globally. You’re not allowed on the premises.
Stone: Oh man.
Kircher: Have you made an alternate? Have you made a new account? Have you decided to bite the bullet?
Stone: Well, admitting to doing that would run afoul of Twitter’s rules for violating a permanent suspension, which—in my defense—the language was a little bit unclear. It says, “If you create a new account, we will suspend that account.” It does not say, “Do not use an account that you perhaps already made when you were in high school because then we’ll find that and shut that down within two minutes, because hypothetically/allegedly you linked your old account so that people could find you.”
Kircher: How long has it been now?
Stone: It’s been about two weeks now. It’s about the principle of the thing. I understand: The letter of the law, perhaps I did run afoul of. But also, there’s a difference between what I did and a bannable offense.
Kircher: The president of the United States inciting violence upon the nation.
Stone: Right. To name that exactly. There’s a bit of a scale issue here.
Kircher: How does it feel to be in a club with Donald Trump and the MyPillow guy?
Kircher: This is you getting Joker-fied. It’s happening.
Stone: Nooo. I just want to be redeemed.
To listen to the rest of the episode, including a galaxy-brain take on the word cheugy, subscribe to ICYMI.