Society and Culture

Twitter’s latest suspension proves motive doesn’t matter anymore

Following a short leave of absence, Titania McGrath is back. For the uninitiated, this is a parody Twitter account, which the site’s moderators suspended yesterday for breaching their guidelines.

Calling herself a “radical intersectionalist poet”, the account sends up the excesses of the left, hilariously parodying the intolerance of extreme identity politics, political correctness and other tenets of ‘Social Justice Warrior’ ideology by following their internal logic to their fullest – and absurdist – conclusions. She has proclaimed weight loss a “passive aggressive form of fat-shaming”, and called for newborns to be given numbers rather than names until they have determined their own “gender identity”.

Other tweets parody contemporary feminism, which often denies the importance of personal choice in determining differing outcomes between the sexes, and, at worst, actively promotes a narrative which recasts women as victims.

“Women have never been more oppressed than they are today. It’s the *illusion* of freedom that makes our oppression all the more devastating. The fact that so many women think they are enjoying their lives only proves my point.”

Best of all was Titania’s ‘poetry’ – melodramatic, lewd and invariably appalling. In one offering, she mimicked alarmism about ‘toxic masculinity’ by likening maleness to original sin.

“Every baby boy is an abomination / A savage nugget of pus scooped from an open wound / And dumped into sullied uteri”. My favourite of all is too rude to quote, but you can read it here.

The account followed a very similar technique to an earlier parodier of ‘wokeness’ known as Godfrey Elfwick, also barred from Twitter this year (in fact, the accounts were so similar as to have almost certainly come from the same author). Much of the genius of these satires lay in their fine balance between credibility and ludicrousness. On occasion, Twitter users and the general public would fail to recognise these parodies and (unironically) agree or sympathise with them.

Elfwick memorably claimed to have fooled the Guardian into publishing an op-ed: ‘Alt-right online poison nearly turned me into a racist’ which branded New Atheists like Sam Harris a ‘gateway drug’ to the alt-right. Another time, Elfwick – or someone claiming to be him – was invited onto a BBC radio show, where he lambasted the latest Star Wars film as ‘extremist misogyny’. Such examples clearly vindicate the satire’s intended purpose, which hinges on the idea that SJW excesses have moved ‘beyond parody’.

Both accounts belong to a long and illustrious genre of satirical absurdity, which encompasses works like Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, to more recent TV shows like Monty Python and Brass Eye. Masquerading as an attempt to alleviate poverty in Ireland, Swift’s 1729 essay proposes that the most obvious solution to the country’s economic crisis is for families to sell their children as food, and suggests various ways to prepare and serve their bodies. This is, of course, no endorsement of cannibalism but a blistering attack on English absentee landlords – although one wonders whether a modern-day Jonathan Swift might today be accused of causing offence. In this respect, the Titania McGrath account is far closer to British iconoclastic traditions than many of the safe, PC comics who nowadays populate BBC and Channel 4 panel shows.

Of course, this is not the first time that Twitter has suspended its users. In the past, the site has barred accounts suspected of ‘hateful’ conduct or spreading ‘fake news’. Yet clamping down on obvious parody represents a departure from previous practice. It is part of a worrying new trend; not just of random and unexplained suspensions, but a complete dismissal of context and motivation.

These examples recall the case of Count Dankula, alias Mark Meechan, the comedian recently fined £800 for teaching his girlfriend’s pug dog to perform a Nazi salute, and posting it on YouTube. Meechan was found guilty of breaching Section 127 of the 2003 U.K. Communications Act, prohibiting “‘grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, or menacing’ electronic communications.” As before, the satirical import was lost on many commentators, who reported the story as though man (and dog) were actually Nazis, and Scottish lawmakers, who doled out punishment without seeming to notice that the joke was clearly, albeit tastelessly, critical of Nazism.

After all, in order to wind up his girlfriend, Meechan had decided to make his dog do the most unpleasant thing he could imagine, and alighted on the Nazi salute. This should surely affect our understanding, even if some found the joke gratuitous and offensive. I personally didn’t find it particularly funny – although there are many who did – but either way, the only proper response to a bad joke is not to laugh.

Another example came in the wake of the Islamist attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015, when many left-wing commentators brazenly and disingenuously ignored the cartoonists’ comic motives. Charlie Hebdo’s satirical method often involved sending up racism and intolerance by appropriating, and thereby mocking, the language of xenophobes. Yet understanding this requires a conversant knowledge of French politics and culture. Sadly many commentators didn’t attempt to grapple with the cartoons’ context, and the nature of French satire. Instead, many chose to approach the issue in a reductive way; in the process smearing their creators as racist.

Happily, we can be confident that Titania McGrath will come back stronger than ever, not least because Twitter’s decision to suspend the account proved the very point it was making. Just look at this tweet, from a few weeks ago, sending up campus censorship.

“These students have made the world a safer place by refusing to tolerate offensive jokes. I truly believe that the key to a perfect world is the elimination of all comedy. #Jokesareviolence”

As ever, Titania’s humour – like all good satire – was far too close to the bone.

Further reading: Foundations of a Free Society

Further listening: Are There Limits to Free Speech?

Madeline is the IEA’s Editorial Manager, responsible for commissioning and running the IEA blog, and creating content for the IEA podcast channel and other media outlets. Prior to joining the Institute, she worked as a Parliamentary researcher and speechwriter, and as a reporter for Newsweek Magazine. Madeline graduated from St Hilda’s College, Oxford in 2014, with a degree in English. As an undergraduate, Madeline was actively involved in university politics, and was elected to Standing Committee of the Oxford Union during her studies.

1 thought on “Twitter’s latest suspension proves motive doesn’t matter anymore”

  1. Posted 13/12/2018 at 14:16 | Permalink

    My favourite Titania McGrath meme was her “Slut walk for Sharia.”

    In the meantime, Godfrey Elfwick has turned up in the Spectator USA to offer a homage to Ms McGrath.

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