Teacher is sanctioned for wishing suffering to the queen

Teacher is sanctioned for wishing suffering to the queen
United States
Abusive behavior
Content Moderation

On the morning of September 8, as the world learned that the death of Queen Elizabeth II seemed imminent, one comment on Twitter stood out amidst the outpouring of eulogies, heartfelt condolences and memes. Uju Anya, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, wrote: "I have heard that the chief monarch of a thieving, raping, genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be unbearable." 

Uju Anya's original tweet

Her opinion immediately earned her hundreds of criticisms for her lack of empathy. Even Jeff Bezos, who has funded Anya's employer Carnegie Mellon, participated in the flurry of messages. The retort from the owner of Amazon, who has five million followers on Twitter, amplified Anya's original message, who claimed to have received hundreds of e-mails with racist and sexist insults. For its part, the university defended the professor's right to freedom of expression, but had to clarify that her opinions in no way reflected those of the institution.

Shortly thereafter, the tweet was deleted and the account was temporarily suspended. As a Twitter spokesperson explained to The Intercept, the measure was taken because the post was in breach of the abusive behavior policy. This rule is intended to prevent harassment, intimidation or attempts to silence another person's voice. One of the prohibitions is precisely that of expressing a desire for someone to suffer serious harm. 

However, it is not entirely clear that Professor Anya's posting fit those behaviors. For one thing, the wishes of harm referred to in the policy appear to be of a different order than the sanctioned tweet. Twitter offers as examples of these bans expressions such as "I hope you get cancer" or "I hope a car runs over you". 

According to Twitter, the purpose of this rule is to keep users safe under the idea that these kinds of expressions can cause physical or emotional harm to those to whom they are directed. That purpose would seem far from being fulfilled when the rule is applied to protect a person who is about to pass away and who occupies an exceptional position of power. "It's not clear to me how the queen was going to be intimidated by that tweet," said Evelyn Douek, a researcher specializing in content moderation policy.

For many, the sanction was disproportionate to Uju Anya's freedom of expression. A few days later, when she recovered her account, the teacher thanked those who had come to her defense. After this publication went viral, various impersonation and disinformation accounts appeared on other social media linking the teacher to political parties or organizations declared as terrorists in Nigeria, where she is from. Anya had to come out to deny these claims, which she believes may put her life at risk. To date, the tweet in question remains off the air.

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