Right-wing figure and Gamergate instigator Milo Yiannopoulos has repeatedly advocated for violence against journalists on social media. But users who report this type of content often hear back that it doesn’t violate the platform’s rules — at least until sufficient media attention and pressure is brought to bear. Today the cycle repeated, as Instagram initially claimed that a Yiannopoulos post lamenting the lack of journalist deaths attributable to a recent series of pipe bombs was acceptable content on the platform. Instagram then doubled back and removed the post.
As a chorus of MAGA supporters increased its claims that the recent mail bombs sent to George Soros, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Eric Holder, John Brennan, Maxine Waters, Robert DeNiro, and CNN were “fake news” or a “false flag,” Yiannopoulos took to Instagram to express his regret that the bombs had not detonated, and that they had not specifically targeted news outlets he did not like.
“just catching up with news of all these pipe bombs,” Yiannopoulos wrote, “disgusting and sad (that they didn’t go off, and the daily beast didn’t get one).”
After reporting the post to Instagram, Daily Beast reporter Will Sommer says he received a response from the company that Yiannopoulos’ post would not be removed because it “does not violate Community Guidelines.”
Those guidelines open with an admonition to “respect everyone on Instagram,” stating that “serious threats of harm to public and personal safety aren’t allowed” and that “Instagram is not a place to praise or support terrorism.” While it could be argued that Yiannopoulos is not praising terrorism so much as criticizing terrorism for being inefficient at killing his enemies, it’s hard not to interpret his post as conveying an ultimate sense of support for successful terrorism aimed at those targets. How his comments could read as sufficiently respecting the people he wants to see harmed or killed is the latest mystery of the vagaries of social media moderation.
Just in case his 386,000 followers were unclear about his sincerity in wishing actual violence on the press, Yiannopoulos elaborated in a follow-up Instagram post that featured an image of a Daily Beast headline about his initial post. “i need private security whenever i appear in public,” he wrote, “but they cry when i make a joke — about a false flag designed to distract us from the democrat funded and organized illegal migrant caravan.” Despite attempting to hide behind the fig leaf of irony, he nonetheless seemed to acknowledge the violence faced by journalists, noting that “they are scum and I will not mourn them.”
Yiannopoulos has a history of promoting violence against journalists and later dismissing it as a “joke.” In June, he emailed multiple journalists, including Sommer, to say he “can’t wait for vigilante squads to start gunning down journalists on sight.” Afterward, Yiannopoulos posted a screenshot of the quote on Instagram with the caption, “where’s the lie.”
At the time, Buzzfeed reporter Joe Bernstein tweeted a screenshot from a reader who reported the post, and similarly received a notice that it had not “violated Community Guidelines.” According to the screenshot, it was online for 19 hours before its removal. An Instagram representative reportedly later told Bernstein that the initial moderation decision was a “mistake.”
After the fatal mass shooting at The Capital Gazette newspaper, which followed shortly after his posts, Yiannopoulos backtracked and called his incitements for violence “a private joke” and claimed to be “amazed” that it was taken seriously.
Like his June post, today’s post lamenting the ineffectiveness of the pipe bombs was ultimately removed by Instagram. “This content violates our policies and has been removed from Instagram and Facebook,” an Instagram representative told The Verge. “We prohibit celebration or praise of crimes committed, and we will remove content praising a bombing attempt as soon as we’re aware.”
When asked why the company considered itself unaware of the content after it had been reported, and initially denied any violation of Community Guidelines, a representative said that “we made an initial mistake but upon re-review it was confirmed that the content violated our policies.”