In the recent Netflix documentary Get Me Roger Stone, the longtime political operative and influential Trump adviser looks right at the camera and says: “My name is Roger Stone, and I’m an agent provocateur.”
On Friday night—soon after news broke that the Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election has generated its first indictment—Stone provoked Twitter into suspending his account. The move is permanent, Slate has confirmed. (Other outlets, including BuzzFeed and the Hollywood Reporter, have reported the same.)
The tech company took the action on Saturday, after Stone spent a wild Friday night tapping out obscenity-filled rants against news anchor Don Lemon, among other commentators and CNN personalities. The tirade appeared to have been triggered by Lemon tweeting CNN’s then-exclusive scoop that the first charges had been filed in the Mueller investigation.
While Stone has never been a model of decorum on Twitter, his level of vitriol Friday, coupled with the direct, personal nature of his attacks on Lemon, prompted multiple users—including Lemon’s CNN colleague Keith Boykin—to wonder Friday whether Twitter might crack down.
Twitter generally doesn’t comment on individual accounts and a spokesperson declined to say exactly which element of Stone’s tweets earned the permanent suspension. It tends to deflect such inquiries by referring to its official rules on abusive behavior, but those leave room for interpretation.
That policy, coupled with an enforcement history that could be generously characterized as inconsistent, is likely to bring Twitter renewed scrutiny, given Stone’s closeness to the Trump administration. (I’ve argued in the past that Twitter should be more forthright about its reasons for bans like this.)
One factor in this case may have been that Stone repeatedly targeted Lemon using his Twitter handle, so that the harassment would show up in Lemon’s notifications. Twitter considers that a clearer violation of its policies than simply criticizing an individual by name. The company might have interpreted Stone’s call for Lemon to be “punished” as a threat. And liberal commentator Keith Olbermann suggested that Stone’s use of the words “partyboi” and “covksucker” could be considered homophobic. (The “v” is next to the “c” on most keyboards.)
Still, many conservatives found the move hypocritical, citing Olbermann himself among other liberals who are still on Twitter despite some past tweets that might be considered similarly abusive or threatening.
For their part, some liberal activists wondered why Twitter hasn’t suspended the president himself. The company told me after Trump’s election that it wouldn’t rule that out. But it has so far resisted calls to muzzle the president’s account, and it recently clarified that it considers “newsworthiness” and “the public interest” in such decisions.
It’s conceivable that Twitter could reverse its ban on Stone at some point As. Recode’s Peter Kafka points out, it wouldn’t be a shock if a Republican members of Congress raised questions about Twitter and political bias when the company testifies about Russian meddling on Capitol Hill this coming week.
Barring a reversal, however, it appears Stone will have to find other channels through which to voice his love of Trump and Richard Nixon and his hatred of Lemon, liberals, and CNN. As with its prior ban on another right-wing provocateur, Milo Yiannapoulos, Twitter will use technological tools to try and prevent Stone from signing up under a different handle. But then again …