A few hours before it was announced that the Queen of England, Elizabeth II had passed away, the Nigerian professor of linguistics at Carnegie Mellon University, Uju Anya sent out an uncomfortable tweet.
Then the most unthinkable thing happened. One of the world’s richest people replied to her tweet. “This is someone supposedly working to make the world better? I don’t think so. Wow.” Jeff Bezos tweeted.
“May everyone you and your merciless greed have harmed in this world remember you as fondly as I remember my colonizers,” she fired back at him.
This sent shock waves across the internet, provoking a flurry of tweets. Some in support. For instance, Eugene Scott, an American journalist tweeted: “Real question for the ‘now is not the appropriate time to talk about the negative impact of colonialism’ crowd: When is the appropriate time to talk about the negative impact of colonialism?”
Others not so much. The British media figure, Piers Mogan, who once called Ellen Degeneres “a sexist pig,” branded her a “vile disgusting moron.”
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Uju Anya’s followers had risen to over 100,000 followers.
Twitter deleted her tweet for violating its rules.
What rule exactly?
Twitter will not say.
But Piers Morgan’s tweet remains.
For those familiar with the clap-back corners of Twitter, where users with feisty bios post private information of people they disagree with, Uju Anya is no stranger.
For years, in those corners, she waged her wars. She called out Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “malicious politics.” She fought transphobes to the last. She held the fort against misogynists. She joined forces with Amazon workers and supported their unionisation efforts. She threw her weight on Critical Race Theory. The Twitter account @sugabelly was suspended after a bitter battle with Uju Anya. In those corners, she is a resplendent gladiator.
As the conservative western media and Nigerian news outlets called her comment vile, she took it as her badge of honour.
“If anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch who supervised a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family and the consequences of which those alive today are still trying to overcome, you can keep wishing upon a star.” she tweeted.
But Uju Anya’s tweet is nothing new in these corners…
Over the years, this type of utter lack of kindness, of dancing around the grave of the dead for disagreements has become very popular on Twitter.
Hours after the American basketball player died in a crash in 2016, the Washington Post journalist, Felicia Sonmez resurfaced an article about his history of sexual assault allegations.
After the controversial life coach, Kevin Samuels died, Uju Anya tweeted:
“He died in a 1BR sublet with less than $1K to his name, no partner, friend, or offspring willing to claim him, only his poor mother begging and borrowing to bury his loathsome carcass.”
On the day that American conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh died, one user tweeted:
“Rush Limbaugh died after having both of his lungs removed so he could suck his own dick, only to discover that without his lungs he couldn’t create enough suction, so he tried eating his own ass, but that was too relaxing and made him shit and then he choked on his own shit, RIP”
And so as the British royal family gathered around her bedside in the last days of the British Queen, Uju Anya sent out her tweet. Her argument is that the queen is representative of the British colonial order, is no saint and so much be very staunchly kicked off whatever pedestal she seats.
Unremitting debates about moderation and human rights…
As the debate over Uju Anya’s tweet rise to the top of the Twitter trend table, a new debate that has for long been ignored by social media companies crept in, yet again.
Deleting Uju Anya’s tweet doesn’t infringe on her freedom of expression rights, even in America. Twitter owns the space and Twitter decides who it will share its platform with. The argument that tweets are being deleted or users being suspended from social media platforms as emblematic of tech companies taking away rights is nothing more than a distraction from the actual discussion, which is actually about civility.
How can users engage in hot-button debates in a manner that is civil?
But this is a debate that many tech companies have lost even before it starts. Twitter for instance deleted Uju Anya’s tweet but left Piers Morgan’s on its platform. This underscores the topsyturvy nature of how tech companies have handled their own moderation laws.
Without a doubt, regardless of whatever lens you saw the tweet through, it fails to approach the conversation in a manner that is civil, in a way that elevates this important debate about the role that the British royal family plays in the UK’s history of colonisation.
For tech companies to weather these storms and move forward, there will be a need for a total overhaul of how they function, of their lack of transparency on the suspension and deletion of content and users on their platforms.
If all “vile tweets” will have to be taken down. Then what will social media even mean to us?
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