A Twitter account apparently belonging to Cesar Sayoc, Jr. — who has been charged with sending explosive devices to several prominent Democrats and CNN — had a history of threatening behaviour on the site and was previously reported by at least one Twitter user to no avail. The social media platform is now apologizing despite previously having told the user, Rochelle Ritchie, that the tweets did not violate its rules.
Ritchie tweeted screengrabs on Friday of threatening tweets from the account @hardrock2016 as well as Twitter’s response to her complaint. In a series of tweets from the Twitter Safety account posted later that evening, the company said it “made a mistake when Rochelle Ritchie first alerted us to the threat made against her.” The tweets associated with the account @hardrock2016 have since been removed, and the company said it is “investigating what happened and will continue to work to improve how we handle concerns raised” by users on its platform.
Sayoc, a 56-year-old Floridian, was arrested this week in connection to the apparent explosive devices. The former pizza deliveryman and strip-club DJ was charged with sending 13 homemade pipe bombs to prominent critics of President Donald Trump, including former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, billionaire George Soros, Senator Cory Booker, and CNN’s New York bureau, among others.
A sweep of archived tweets from the account that appears to be associated with Sayoc depicts a far-right ideology also evidenced by prominently displayed pro-Trump propaganda stickers on Sayoc’s van, some of which included Trump standing on a tank holding a machine gun, Trump critics in crosshairs, and a “drain the swamp sticker.” The Twitter account had previously sent threatening messages or far-right political memes to Eric Holder, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, former Vice President Joe Biden, and others.
Twitter isn’t the only social media platform flip-flopping on its abuse policy this week in the wake of the attempted bombings. Instagram also issued an apology about its initial refusal to pull a post in which former Breitbart tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos seemingly praised the apparent pipe bombs and said he was “sad” the Daily Beast hadn’t received one. As was evidently the case with Twitter, it was only after widespread criticism and media coverage of its failure to pull the content that Instagram moved to action. The company’s spokeswoman Stephanie Noon later told the Daily Beast in a statement that Instagram “prohibit[s] celebration or praise of crimes committed, and we will remove content praising a bombing attempt as soon as we’re aware.”
Following a request for comment from Twitter about its failure to suspend the account @hardrock2016, the Verge said the company pointed to blog posts from May and September that outlined its procedure for reviewing abusive behaviour on its platform. But considering that Twitter is now having to apologise—again—for failing to do anything about the pervasive culture of vitriol and hate on its platform, it’s probably time to once again re-evaluate its system.