How a Clip From Stray Got Me Banned From Twitter

Turns out that maybe we shouldn't be letting AI handle moderation.

I am currently on vacation. It’s been nice, I get to sleep in a lot, no one asks for my opinion on video game news (besides No. 3 Games Journalist Jeff Grubb), and I get to just play games rather than critically evaluate them for work. One of those games recently has been Stray, the cute little cat game that has become an obsession for many game outlets to cover in its surprising popularity. Not me, though. I’m just walking around taking pictures of a cat being a cat.

Last night, while playing Stray, I got myself on a platform I clearly was not supposed to be on and got stuck. That’s cat behavior, for sure. I have seen my own cat Robo work her way into closets and then mournfully mew until I can pull the closet door far enough for her to get out. What Robo has never done, thank God, is fall out of the world. I’d probably be aghast if my cats did this, but I did chuckle when it happened in Stray. I took a short clip, uploaded it with the caption “They got cat behavior so right in Stray. I can’t tell you how often I see my cats do this.”

I got immediately suspended.

According to Twitter, the exact rule I broke was “Violating our rules against posting or sharing privately produced/distributed intimate media of someone without their express consent.” Basically, the rule against Revenge Porn, wherein people post nudes of someone without their say-so. This is a good rule that is sometimes applied in heavy-handed ways against 18+ accounts with selfies and also, apparently, against video game cats.

Here’s the clip that Twitter does not want you to see. Gee, I hope this doesn’t get me banned from Fanbyte.

So, like, not immediately obvious as Revenge Porn, I feel like. I don’t know what words or images here or in the tweet triggered this swift ban, but I don’t see anything as particularly egregious here. My editing is not particularly good, as I leave multiple seconds of just blank grey screen at the end, but I’m on vacation and do not have to care.

You might say to yourself, this is clearly a bot that found some ones and zeros objectionable and made a mistake and I would agree with you. It’s a prime example of maybe how we shouldn’t be letting AI run the world maybe, but this was clearly a mistake. So I appealed with my trademark good humor.

Twitter appeal stating "This is a video from the PlayStation 5 game Stray. You cannot possibly be this dense."

Overnight, I received a response that my appeal had been denied. So a human being, someone who works at Twitter dot com, looked at that video, looked back at the rule it was breaking, looked once again at the video, and went “Yeah, this all checks out.”

I appealed again, this time asking them to very clearly explain to me what part of this video looks like revenge porn to them. The problem is that, once you choose to argue about a tweet by filing the appeal, you cannot be unsuspended until either they agree your appeal is correct (which it is), you give up your appeal (never), and/or delete the offending tweet.

Listen on your preferred podcast catcher here.

Here’s the thing: I’m a stinker. Even at my jolliest, if someone figuratively shoulder-checks me, I’m probably going to make so many mountains out of this molehill that I will adjust the topography of the United States significantly. This is multiplied by ten when I’m very clearly in the right. So I’m choosing not to abandon my appeal and want them to explain to me what part of this cat game is pornographic to them because I’ll not tweet for months if it gets someone to write “We as a company think the cat is revenge porn” in an email.

But there’s also a larger thing here where Twitter apparently has moderation tools so powerful that they can immediately trigger bans for things other than what they’re actually looking for. The actual execution leaves a lot to be desired here, but the itchy trigger finger cannot be denied. Somehow they can do this, but racial slurs are generally pretty okay, white supremacy is largely ignored, and every Twitter troll I’ve reported for harassment gets a three-week investigation and then a “We find they did not violate our rules” email.

They could, in fact, ban the nazis if they wanted to. But they’d rather go HAM on cat videos instead.

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