Outrage greeted what appeared to be the suspension of an Indigenous academic's Twitter account, but Twitter said it was all a mistake.
The social media saga began when Veldon Coburn, who teaches Indigenous issues at McGill University, received a threat on Twitter Monday morning. A user named Theron Iverson wrote: "f*ck, I want to pop you in the lips."
Cobrun took a screenshot of the tweet and tagged RCMP Saskatchewan because Iverson appeared to be from that province. The instructor also included what he called a "tongue in cheek" comment, pondering how the police would react "when a white settler threatens an Indigenous person."
Delightful threat of violence from @iverson_theron of Battleford, Saskatchewan. I wonder how the @RCMPSK would react when a white settler threatens an Indigenous person? Or do we have to wonder at all? pic.twitter.com/SKimeNfE01— Veldon Coburn (@VeldonCoburn) February 19, 2018
"I think there's a backlash against Indigenous people, especially in wake of the Gerald Stanley verdict," Coburn told HuffPost Canada in an interview. Stanley is the Saskatchewan farmer who was acquitted earlier this month in the 2016 shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie, who was from the Red Pheasant First Nation.
"Him (Iverson) and some other idiots made some remarks about Indigenous people, and then he popped up again yesterday and decided to level a few words at me," said Coburn.
That afternoon, Coburn learned that some of his Twitter privileges had been revoked — he was only allowed to view tweets and send and receive direct messages.
Twitter told him his account would stay that way for the next seven days, and that he needed to delete three tweets of his in the above thread, according to Coburn.
In response, Twitter users started a #freeveldon hashtag to urge Twitter to restore Coburn's privileges — and to question why no action had been taken against the person who threatened him.
@Twitter @TwitterSafety @Jack - @VeldonCoburn is a respected writer, Indigenous community leader and scholar. You suspended his account for responding critically but politely to an overt threat. This is unacceptable and reflects terribly on your organization #FreeVeldon— Audra Mitchell (@AudraLMitchell) February 20, 2018
These are the tweets Veldon was suspended for. He was drawing attention to someone threatening him. Apparently this is now "targeted harassment" or something. The person who made the threat isn't suspended. #FreeVeldon pic.twitter.com/PyWtQXwsyA— Billy (@BillyArmagh) February 20, 2018
On Tuesday morning, Coburn discovered that his account had been fully restored. He said he received an email from Twitter explaining that the partial suspension had been an error.
A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost that some of Coburn's privileges were removed, but declined to say why, citing privacy concerns.
Apology accepted, @Twitter. However, the patience of BIPOC and other marginalized groups is wearing thin—razor thin. On a daily basis, we are subject to threats of violence, ranging from maiming to rape to death, on your platform. We'll start looking elsewhere if you won't help. pic.twitter.com/USCHKUXjMz— Veldon Coburn (@VeldonCoburn) February 20, 2018
Any user is allowed to submit a complaint about another user or a tweet, but each report is vetted, and not taken solely at face value, said Twitter.
Coburn told HuffPost that he reported Theron Iverson and his threat. That account has since been deleted, but it's unclear why.
Iverson told HuffPost Canada over email that Coburn "attacked" him by calling him "white garbage, white supremacist."
"His rude and vulgar tweets towards me caused me to act out, which I realize was wrong," said Iverson.
"The tweet was removed because I received threats and hate mail myself."
Accepted Twitter's apology
In a tweet Tuesday, Coburn accepted Twitter's apology, but noted that the "patience of BIPOC [black, Indigenous, people of colour] and other marginalized groups is wearing thin — razor thin" on the issue of harassment on the site.
"On a daily basis, we are subject to threats of violence, ranging from maiming to rape to death, on your platform. We'll start looking elsewhere if you won't help."
Coburn himself has made vulgar comments on social media in the past. Last summer, he tweeted at Alberta writer Alheli Picazo, telling her to "light yourself on fire if you can stand the smell of yourself."
The exchange appears to have come in relation to a June 2017 press conference where relatives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and a CBC reporter had a tense exchange.
But when questioned about the remark Tuesday, Coburn tweeted that Picazo "took the occasion to racially malign our Indigenous women & Elders."
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