Why I Was Suspended from Twitter, now X

Legal - April 15, 2024

For some years I have had an account at Twitter, now X, @hannesgi, which I have used sparingly, posting mostly links to my articles or accounts of my lectures around the world, only occasionally my own brief remarks. One of them was however much quoted. It was when I commented in 2019 on an insufferable Swedish activist: ‘Greta Thunberg says that she speaks for coming generations. What have coming generations done for us? Nothing. What have we done for coming generations? Everything.’ For me, though, the best thing about Twitter was that I could following the observations of a few stimulating thinkers who used Twitter as a forum, Niall Ferguson on history and current affairs, Matt Ridley on science and society, Edward Luttwak on strategy and military affairs, not least Israel and Taiwan, and Bjorn Lomborg on climate change and the true state of the world. They always had something fresh and interesting to say. I used Instagram to post photographs of my activities, to the benefit of friends and family, and Facebook for longer comments.

Stolen Identity

Needless to say, I never violated the X rules. My political beliefs are not extreme: I define myself as a conservative liberal, conservative in my respect for traditions and established institutions, liberal in my support of free trade, private property, and limited government. I hate no group of people for what they are, although I strongly dislike some groups for what they do, such as murderers, child molesters and rapists. Probably my strongest prejudice, if prejudice it be, would be against the radical islamists who stone women to death, throw gays off roofs and behead journalists in front of applauding audiences. I defended a doctoral dissertation at Oxford University in 1985, and I have been Professor of Political Theory at the University of Iceland since 1988, until my mandatory retirement upon reaching seventy in February 2023.

I admit that I have not really been all that concerned about cyber security until now. The password for my X account was not very complicated. But on 7 December 2023 I received a message from X that the email address on my account had been changed. I did not make this change and now I suddenly could not access the account. I also got a message from X the same day that there had been a login to my account from an android mobile phone in Pleasant Hill, California. I sent a report to X on 8 December which was acknowledged the same day. They asked for my username, email address, the last date I had access, and phone number. I promptly provided all this.

Nothing happened for a while. Then, in January I saw an online message at my account which was certainly not from me. ‘Hi, I have 2 Taylor Swift tickets to BC Place, Vancouver for sale. Dm if you’re interested.’ I had no idea who Taylor Swift was, but now I know she is a famous singeress. In Iceland, where I am a quite well-known commentator on current affairs, there was bemusement at my sudden interest in her concerts. I sent a new report to X on 16 January and again they asked for my username, email address, the last date I had access and phone number, and again I provided all this promptly. In the meantime, I had established a new account, @HGissurarson, so that I could access X and read the interesting observations of Ferguson, Ridley, Luttwas, Lomborg and others. But on the very same day as I sent my second complaint about the hacked account, I received a message that my new account had been ‘suspended for violating the X Rules due to a user report. Specifically for: Violating our rules against evading suspension.’

Punishing the Victim, Not the Perpetrator

It seems that my report about the theft of my original account, @hannesgi, had finally got through, and that the account had as a result been suspended. But at the same time X suspended my new account, even if I had done nothing wrong. I tried to establish another new account, @GissurarsonH, but it was also suspended ‘due to a user report. Specifically for: Violating our rules against evading suspension.’ I have tried many times to use the forms provided on the X website to explain the situation to the company: that it was my account which had been stolen and that I would like to have it restored to me; if that was not possible, that I would like to establish a new account. I have just received repeated messages that my accounts were suspended due to multiple violations of the X rules.

I find all of this extraordinary. It did not mean much to me personally to lose my access to X. I was not financially or otherwise dependent on the account. But why was I suspended, with my email address, when somebody else had hacked into my account, changed the email address attached to it, and sent out messages in my name? Should the victim be punished, not the perpetrator? I was the innocent one, the hacker was the guilty one, and I would have expected X to find him with ease since they knew his or her email address and presumably also his or her phone number in Pleasant Hill, California. False impersonation is a crime in California according to §529 of the state’s Penal Code. X told me that it was after careful and thorough consideration that they suspended my account. How could it have been ‘careful and thorough consideration’ to suspend the person who was the victim of the theft instead of the thief?

I would presume that almost all X cases like mine are resolved by computers. It is intriguing however that it is mentioned in some of the messages to me that there were ‘user reports’. Who would be monitoring my name? I think it is preposterous to assume that X takes such interest in an obscure professor of political theory at the University of Iceland that the case was at some stage handled by humans. But if it was, of course most of the X staff are quite leftist. They would only need to take a quick look at my social media accounts to determine that I was not their favourite.

Forum for Free Speech

X is, like the other social media, a forum in which people can find and contact others with similar interests. It should allow free speech, as much as possible, although of course not sedition or any incitement to violence. It was appalling when Twitter, with the other popular social media, cancelled the account of the President of the United States and when it suppressed sceptical voices about the covid epidemic and quashed all reports about Hunter Biden’s laptop before the 2020 presidential elections. Some might object that X is a private company. But as Professor Richard Epstein argues, it is sometimes reasonable to treat social media platforms as common carriers. Hotels and restaurants are not allowed to deny services to people on the ground of their race; roads and bridges are open to people of both sexes; and telephone companies may not exclude Arabs or Jews as clients. But I must confess that I still do not understand why I was suspended from X.