In Aristophanes's masterpiece of Old Comedy, The Frogs, the god Dionysus descends to the underworld in order to rescue the soul of the poet Euripides, whose advice is needed back in Athens. On the journey, Dionysus is met by a chorus of frogs, who merrily troll him and sing a series of songs that are entirely nonsensical, but nonetheless entirely beautiful.
In a similar fashion, many writers, journalists, and others have found their Twitter experience enlivened over the last year by Twitter's very own frog chorus, a loose group of users connected by 4chan, Donald Trump, and, of course, Pepe the Frog.
At its worst, the frog chorus consisted of tedious Nazi rantings, best ignored. At its best, however, the frog chorus delivered a coruscating critique of Western modernity, via the medium of exceptionally high-quality memes. A sort of entente cordiale developed between the leaders of "frogtwitter" and many mainstream right-wing writers, united by their shared love of memes and distrust of modern Western social and political arrangements.
Twitter, however, has taken a different view, and has recently taken to banning many of the leaders of frogtwitter, for no obvious rhyme or reason. This is not necessarily because they were abusive or violated the terms of service. While it is true that some, such as the notorious Bronze Age Pervert (a "nationalist, fascist, nudist, bodybuilder!", recently featured in The Atlantic), did not exactly shy away from giving Twitter easy excuses to ban them, many others were immaculately behaved.
Perhaps the greatest loss is the famous Menaquinone4, as renowned for his impressively low body fat percentage as for the quality of his content. Prior to his banning, the gentlemanly Menaquinone had achieved the remarkable feat of having one of his memes retweeted by Ann Coulter into the feed of President Trump himself.
The meme itself is typical of frogtwitter's best output, brilliantly satirising the delusions of those who think that a hyper-organized core of resistance to President Trump will emerge from amongst America's intelligence agencies, while also sending up the curious figure of Evan McMullin, a Mormon and former CIA agent who ran as an independent in the 2016 election, garnering a decent percentage of the vote in his home state of Utah.
McMullin's politics can best be described as the last and worst dregs of the Bush Administration, invade-the-world-invite-the-world liberalism covered by a scanty dressing of conservative platitudes; as a representative of the Never Trump movement, he cuts a distinctly weak and uninspiring figure.
Even philosophers aren't immune to the purge. Nick Land, a leading neo-reactionary writer who once taught at Warwick University until he took a few too many mind-altering substances and found it necessary – for the sake of everyone's sanity – to disappear to the Far East, recently found his @Outsideness handle locked (though it is currently unlocked again).
The present writer has followed Land for the last few years, and never once has his conduct been anything other than entirely praiseworthy. Twitter has evidently decided that certain voices need to be silenced, and silenced they will be, no matter how flimsy the pretexts. The exact mixture of algorithmic and human input that Twitter is using to implement these bans remains uncertain. Some low-quality algorithm is clearly involved, since one user caught up in the purge, whose posts consisted entirely of apolitical anime and pictures of frogs, surely cannot have been banned by any human with an IQ above 80.
The enforced Silence of the Frogs poses some troubling questions, especially for a website that supposedly believes in freedom of expression. One has to wonder why Twitter took so long to ban the truly odious Milo Yiannopoulos, responsible for multiple harassment campaigns, while banning the subversive yet harmless satirists of frogtwitter at the drop of a hat.
Is there one rule for the high-profile and well-connected, but another for the anonymous? Why is notorious neo-Nazi Richard Spencer still around? Is it because Spencer is in fact a boring non-entity with no following, his fame a creation of the media, while the cognoscenti had begun to revel in frogtwitter's nihilistic yet life-affirming esotericism? Who will want to use a website where a man's content consumption is determined not by his own refined tastes, but by the jaded whims of a gaggle of Silicon Valley wetties?
Regardless of the specific failings of Twitter, this unsavoury episode opens up a broader debate about the role of social media platforms that enjoy monopoly without accountability. Twitter – for now – offers an entirely unique platform, a place where a young man of no name can reach the president of the United States on terms of equality. As such it plays an outsized role in our democratic discourse, just as Facebook's control of the flow of news has come to dominate the media's relationship with its consumers. These private corporations play the role that public commons once did.
Twitter may be not long for this world – its failure to make to its platform more user-friendly will surely kill it off before long, and this clumsy censorship won't help. Competitors will arise to take its place, but if one single platform becomes the dominant replacement, we are simply back to square one. It is not clear that there is an obvious solution to this problem within a conventional free-market framework.
In the meantime, we must lament the lamps that are going out all over Twitter. I doubt we shall see them lit again in this presidency.
Andrew Sabisky is an independent research worker and writer. Follow : @AndrewSabisky