Twitter temporarily suspended conservative USA Today columnist and University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds over a controversial tweet published in response to the Charlotte riots in North Carolina. Known on Twitter as @Instapundit, Reynolds' tweet sent on Wednesday (21 September) night seemed to suggest that North Carolina drivers should run down protesters blocking highway traffic.
The inflammatory tweet, which included a quoted tweet from @WBTVNews about the protest in Charlotte over the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, saw the Twitter user's account suspended shortly after it was posted.
According to Twitter's Help Centre, the use of violent threats, both direct and indirect, are prohibited on the platform.
"You may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism," Twitter's rules read.
Any account found violating the platform's terms may be temporarily suspended or permanently banned by the company. To unlock one's account, a user can do so by "verifying your email address, adding a phone number to your account, or deleting Tweets that are in violation of our Rules."
Reynolds account was later reinstated after he deleted the "offending tweet", he wrote in a tweet.
While many users were appalled at the controversial tweet, the subsequent temporary ban sparked a backlash from thousands of users who dubbed the decision as "censorship" and voiced their opinions on the issue using the hashtag #freeinstapundit. Some also argued that it was within a driver's right to defend themselves against violent protesters.
Some users who allegedly receive dozens of abusive tweets also called out the popular social media network for its perceived inconsistent handling of trolls and abuse on its platform, arguing that those accounts do not get suspended as quickly as @Instapundit was.
Many users also pulled competitor Gab.ai - a new social network that touts itself as the free speech alternative to Twitter and Facebook. Currently in private beta, the site reportedly sports over 25,000 active user accounts already in addition to another 65,000 people on the waitlist.
Reynolds later defended his tweet arguing that while he could have worded it better, "driving on is self-preservation".
"Sorry, blocking the interstate is dangerous, and trapping people in their cars and surrounding them is a threat," Reynolds wrote on his personal blog. "Driving on is self-preservation, especially when we've had mobs destroying property and injuring and killing people. But if Twitter doesn't like me, I'm happy to stop providing them with free content."
Reynolds also claimed that Twitter did not give him any explanation for the temporary suspension.
Melanie D Wilson, the dean of the University of Tennessee College of Law, said she would investigate the matter, saying that his remarks were "an irresponsible use of his platform". USA Today has suspended the conservative commentator's column for one month. Reynolds also apologised for the tweet in a statement on USA Today's website saying his comment was misunderstood, but should have been clearer.
"I have always supported peaceful protests, speaking out against police militarization and excessive police violence in my USA TODAY columns, on my website and on Twitter itself," he said. "I understand why people misunderstood my tweet and regret that I was not clearer."
The latest incident has once again pushed Twitter into the spotlight amid growing criticism against social media networks that continue to struggle with moderating and tackling online harassment, abuse and terrorist activities on their platforms whilst promoting free speech.
In August, YouTube's biggest star PewDiePie was kicked off Twitter after joking that his account became unverified because he and a fellow YouTuber had joined the Islamic State (Isis).
Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones recently left Twitter after facing a barrage of sexist and racist abuse on the platform. She also called out the social media company for not doing enough to deal with abuse and trolls on Twitter. Conservative tech editor of American news website Breitbart Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently banned from Twitter after he was accused of inciting the harassment against the actress.
The company recently rolled out new anti-abuse tools giving users "more control over what you see and who you interact with on Twitter".