Shahak Shapira, a Berlin-based Jewish comedian and author, has stenciled and spray-painted 30 racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and homophobic tweets — and the accounts associated with them — outside Twitter’s German headquarters in Hamburg. The action is part of Shapira’s #HEYTWITTER campaign, a response to Twitter’s choice to not remove such comments from their platform.
Over the last six months, Shapira reported comments he found across social media — not just “plain insults,” he explains in a video about the movement, “but absolutely serious threats of violence, homophobia, xenophobia, or Holocaust denial.” Sometimes reporting from multiple accounts, he’d hoped Facebook and Twitter would take action — the former labels hate speech as a terms of service violation; Twitter “prohibits the promotion of hate speech globally.” Though Facebook removed about 80% of about 150 comments, after Shapira reported over 300 tweets, Twitter responded only nine times, always stating that the tweets violated nothing. On the rare occasion they did remove a comment Shapira reported, they’d fail to notify him.
In the video, Shapira adds, “If Twitter forces me to see those things, then they’ll have to see them, too.” The spray-painted comments hit right in the heart, forcing you to feel an uncomfortable combination of sheer, tear-inducing horror and total lack of surprise. Sadly, in the video, we watch a street buffer — a black man — clear the sidewalk of the stencils. The others that surround the building, spreading into the street, remain — which, says Shapira, “fits well with Twitter’s policy of cleaning in front of their own door and leaving the rest to be someone else’s problem.”
In-person hate speech carries the threat of physical danger; on the internet, it’s a different kind of insidious, quick like fire. The #HEYTWITTER hashtag has already picked up global supporters and will hopefully force Twitter to take quicker action against such comments.
Shapira’s dissenters feel removing hate speech is a kind of censorship which, he concluded in an email to Hyperallergic, is “stupid on multiple levels. Twitter isn’t a basic human right, so censorship is the wrong word. Twitter is the product of a private company – them deleting certain comments from their platform is simply householder’s rights. Referring to Twitter removing hate speech such as ‘Gays to Auschwitz’ as censorship is an insult to people who actually had to fight for their freedom of speech. I’m not demanding Twitter to set up new guidelines. I’m merely asking them to live up to the guidelines THEY set up themselves. It’s not about them deleting every tweet reported, it’s about reviewing those tweets properly…preferably with the same speed and determination they show when it’s about removing boob pics.”
This isn’t Shapira’s first public reaction to shameful behavior. Earlier this year, his video and project, Yolocaust, combined selfies taken at Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial (yoga poses, smiling faces!) with footage from Nazi concentration camps; those who wanted their images removed could email the artist at [email protected] of the featured “selfie-takers” did reach out and apologize, including the man who’d captioned his photo, “Jumping on dead Jews @ Holocaust Memorial.” “I am sorry,” he wrote. “I truly am…I would like to be undouched.” Perhaps Twitter will undouche themselves, too.