Ng Weng Hoong: Twitter has a responsibility to fight bullying and #StopAsianHate

One user shares his experience of being caught in the social media equivalent of the Twilight Zone for countering Sinophobia online

    1 of 14 2 of 14

      “Did you get suspended by Twitter?”

      I received this email from my good friend Victor Wong as I was leaving the Apple store with a new MacBook Air.

      Indeed, Twitter had suspended @WengCouver after someone had complained about one of my tweets written on April 12. As I began navigating Twitter’s system for handling complaints, I would learn some lessons about how social media enables hate. In my case for what I feel was a wrongful suspension, it included a near lost cause of trying to find the offending tweet. More on this later.

      Here’s a screenshot of the tweet, which has since been deleted from my account in keeping with Twitter’s rules.

      Twitter has classified this tweet as “hateful conduct”. How so? I do not know as I could not, and still cannot, see why these two sentences and the two screenshots have been deemed offensive.

       I had written it in reply to Victor’s tweet about an Asian man being assaulted by a white nationalist at a California rally. According to the Newsweek story, the victim had persisted in asking the white nationalist: “I just want to know why you hate me so much?”

      Replying to Victor, I said the question should be put to @VictoriaJoss and @Schtaunkhauser, two individuals whose tweets regularly touch on Chinese-related issues. For context, I had included screenshots of two of their standout tweets, which I consider to be hateful and racist.

      @VictoriaJoss tweeted on June 24, 2020: “Oh boo hoo. It IS the China Flu, Kung Flu, Chinese Virus” while @Schtaunkhauser was a follower of a “Hitler was Right” group in an undated description of himself on his Twitter profile.

      On Twitter, these two seem to regularly blame Chinese people for Metro Vancouver’s problems, especially with regard to housing. While @VictoriaJoss and @Schtaunkhauser do not have large followings, their messaging reflects a recent worrying rise in anti-Chinese sentiments in British Columbia. That was the reason for my directing them to answer the Asian man’s question: “Why (do) you hate me so much”. It is a relevant and pertinent question amid the surge in anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiments in North America.

      She sees nothing wrong with her mocking “Kung Flu, Chinese Virus” message. Promoted by former U.S. President Donald Trump, those words and their sentiments have been found to encourage racist, including violent, acts against the broad Asian diaspora and anyone who “looks” Chinese in the U.S. and Canada. She insists that Chinese immigrants are the main, if not sole, cause of Metro Vancouver’s housing problems despite the fact that this is a complex problem caused by a multitude of factors.

      @Schtaunkhauser has long removed his “Hitler was Right” group following from his profile. But he has run afoul of Twitter’s rules, possibly more than once, and has been suspended allegedly for making hateful comments. Here are two of his remarks, laced with innuendoes, against ethnic Chinese people.

      Ironically, it appears the complaint against me was filed by @Schtaunkhauser.

      Even more ironic, and astonishingly, Twitter agreed with him and ruled that I had violated its rule.

      The Jewish word, chutzpah, which is a stronger version of “audacity”, comes to mind.

      How did this “Hitler was Right” group follower convince Twitter that I had engaged in “hateful conduct” through this tweet? How did he sell the fantasy that I had been promoting “SinoChinese” supremacy and hate speech? I am on record for opposing Xi Jinping’s government for appealing to the Chinese diaspora through blood ties, and for its human rights abuses against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. I consider Xi’s policies both fascist and totalitarian.

      @Schtaunkhauser celebrated his bizarre victory on April 13 by announcing that Twitter had informed him of my suspension.

      The following day, @VictoriaJoss asked: “Are you sure he’s suspended?”

      @Schtaunkhauser replied: “I got an email from twitter saying he is. He hasn’t tweeted in 17 hours. So, yes…pretty clear that Twitter has put him in the penalty box for a while.”

      The exchange between these two led me to believe that it was @Schtaunkhauser who had filed the complaint.

      Whoever in Twitter made the decision to take up @Schtaunkhauser’s complaint against me needs to re-examine the case and to reverse its decision.

      @Schtaunkhauser has done more than promote racism against ethnic Chinese people.

      Over the last two years, he has been using Twitter to make personal attacks against me as well as other people. I was not fully aware of these attacks as he had blocked me from his account.

      Why me? Because I have been pushing back against the rising trend of Chinese-scapegoating on a number of issues in Metro Vancouver, starting with housing. If he succeeds in silencing and tarnishing me, there will be one voice less to counter the rising anti-Chinese racism in Canada.

      Below is a sample of how @Schtaunkhauser has portrayed me through his tweets.

      1. A terrorist who recently burned down Masonic temples in North Vancouver
      2. A gangster, a loan shark, and a fraudster
      3. An agent of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
      4. Endangering workplace safety in an Ontario factory
      5. “Child grooming”
      6. A “Han supremacist” who harbours “hatred towards western culture”
      7. A participant in the rape of Uyghur women in Xinjiang, and
      8. Illegal animal poaching

      Can anyone, especially Twitter, take his complaint against me seriously after reading his insanity? His tweets have received “likes” from his supporters. To his 1,140 Twitter followers, how do you explain your support for such lying, hateful behaviour?

      Twitter in the Twilight Zone

      This story is not just about the social media activities of @VictoriaJoss, @Schtaunkhauser, and me, three obscure individuals in a world that has far bigger issues to deal with.

      It is about the role of Twitter and social media in enabling hate at a time when our social and political fabric is coming under tremendous strain. Against the backdrop of Xi Jinping’s China and the West in growing conflict, the Chinese diaspora and the Asian population in general are becoming collateral damage. It will likely worsen, especially if and when a shooting war breaks out. This continuing build-up of anti-Chinese, anti-Asian animosity has grave consequences for everybody.

      Twitter’s decision to suspend my account exposes troubling weaknesses in its handling of hate messaging. I felt like I was inside an episode of The Twilight Zone where logic does not apply.

      When I tried to log in after learning about my suspension, I was met with an accusation. I cannot recall the exact words, but it went something like if I wanted to regain the use of @WengCouver, I would have to agree that I had violated Twitter’s rules.

      I had written several tweets on April 12, so which was the “offensive” one? I needed to read it again before entering a plea.

      But I could not because Twitter had locked me out of my account.

      In order to get into my account so that I could read that tweet, I would have to plead guilty first.

      This process makes no sense. When did Rod Serling write Twitter’s rules?

      After several minutes of a tense standoff, I yielded and pressed the “Agree” button.

      It did not dawn on me then, but I had just signed off on an enforced confession. Plead guilty to whatever the charge is, and I would be let off.

      So, for the sake of regaining the use of @WengCouver, I pleaded guilty to an unknown offence that some anonymous person had filed against me which Twitter pre-emptively and unilaterally accepted was true. At that point I did not know who had filed the complaint.

      Without properly investigating the story, like hearing my side of the story, Twitter accepted my accuser’s charges and put me in the deep freezer for several hours.

      On regaining access, I went looking for that supposedly offensive tweet.

      But it was gone. By default, it was deleted the moment I pressed “Agree” to Twitter’s charge of rules violation.

      I emailed Notify@Twitter.com who said they did not have a record of the deleted tweet. It meant that neither Twitter nor I now had any idea what offence I had allegedly committed.

      By now, I was more indignant and annoyed than anxious.

      Does Twitter realize it is operating a closed-loop execution system used by Mao’s Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution? It starts with a wild anonymous accusation. The victim faces a vague charge of having violated party rules without fully knowing what they did and who had filed the complaint.

      The only hope of regaining one’s status (or surviving an execution) is to plead guilty to violating party rules and to beg (and hope) for forgiveness. The fact that you could be or are innocent is irrelevant.

      Unable to recall the offending tweet, I wondered if I had been punished for having tagged too many people in the past. Since joining Twitter in November 2018, I had posted more than 6,300 tweets up to April 14, 2021. That is an average of over seven tweets a day, which makes me an active user.

      Most of my tweets are targeted at what I consider #ChineseScapegoating and Sinophobic acts, mostly related to events in Canada. A smaller number is aimed at the Chinese Communist Party and its apologists for promoting what I call Sinofascism and the totalitarian ideology of President Xi Jinping.

      I abhor both sets of sentiments as I regard them as driven by blind hate. I tag a number of people on both sides as I deem it imperative that they be exposed to contrarian views. Barricaded inside their echo chambers, these people hold extreme pro- and anti-China views that unfairly affect people of Chinese background. Some have blocked me, others have complained to Twitter.

      This is my Twitter profile:

      After an hour or so communicating with Twitter and Victor over the lost cause to retrieve the deleted tweet, I stumbled upon it.

      It was on my old laptop. By sheer dumb luck, I had forgotten to close my Twitter page when I left for the Apple store hours earlier. I immediately made a screenshot of the tweet. After an exchange of emails, I filed an appeal, but Twitter stood its ground.

      I have read this tweet a few more times, and I still do not see how it constitutes “hateful conduct” especially when I was trying to get two individuals to explain why they are spreading hate.

      Twitter’s "block" feature enables bullying and echo-chambering

      Twitter provides for users to block those they deem to be a source of harassment. On the flip side, the block also enables harassers, bullies, and racists to conduct their business without fear of being directly confronted by their victims.

      As @EileenParkTV recently found out, @Schtaunkhauser has used the block feature to comment about her while denying her the right to reply. Of course, he has done the same to me. By blocking off his critics and victims, @Schtaunkhauser cocoons himself inside an echo chamber where he listens only to his own opinions and the endorsements of his followers. This is how bias and prejudice are reinforced, and hate is perpetuated.

      “What do you call someone who blocks you, but still tweets about you, and also still keeps tabs on your tweets?” she asked after a recent round of @Schtaunkhauser attacks. He began tweeting about her shortly after it was revealed that she had married Gregor Robertson, the former mayor of Vancouver.

      Twitter owes Eileen an answer. Like me, Eileen has been subjected to @Schtaunkhauser’s “obsessive, stalker behaviour” through Twitter.

      @Schtaunkhauser has also used Twitter to spread wild stories against Victor and Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith.

      In a tweet on July 27, 2020, @Schtaunkhauser suggested Victor, Charlie, and me are organ harvesters who have threatened Australia’s anti-CCP activist Drew Pavlou. In an earlier tweet, he linked Victor, Charlie, and me to the supply of defective masks from China to Canada.

      What is Twitter’s responsibility in all this? Should Twitter be suspended for letting a “Hitler was Right” group follower (and many others) use its platform to make vile and false attacks against other people?

      Twitter can start addressing this wrong by immediately removing the blocking feature from @Schtaunkhauser (and others who engage in hate messaging). I would like to ask him directly why he is spreading hate and racism against Chinese people, and why he has resorted to making up stories about people who push back against Chinese-scapegoating. Twitter should not ban him but make him fully answerable to his critics and victims.

      As for my suspension, Twitter turned down my appeal, thus agreeing with @Schtaunkhauser that I had committed an unspecified “hateful conduct” offence.

      Adding a twist, @Schtaunkhauser has since deleted some of his tweets including the April 13 one that announced Twitter’s suspension of my account. This tweet included more false accusations that I am engaged in “Sino Supremacy and anti-Uyghur propaganda”. 

      Why did he delete his latest set of lies?

      I have no idea, and I suspect, neither does Twitter. 

      For some, it means that Twitter has enabled a “Hitler was Right” group follower to continue his winning streak in spreading hate and lies. This is a horror script that surpasses even Rod Serling’s dark imagination and it is playing out in real life on Twitter’s platform.

      Ng Weng Hoong is a Vancouver journalist with more than 30 years of experience covering the energy industry in Asia and the Middle East. This article originally appeared on the OnePacificNews website. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues. 

      Comments