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Twitter Bans 'Breitbart' Editor For Sending Offensive Tweets To Leslie Jones

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In an unusual move, Twitter has decided to ban one of its users. The company suspended the account of a technology editor at the conservative news site Breitbart. He allegedly incited a troll campaign against Leslie Jones. She stars in the new "Ghostbusters" movie. We're going to hear how this unfolded. And a warning to our listeners, this story includes offensive language.

Here's NPR's Aarti Shahani.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Right before the attack, it looks like Leslie Jones was having a great day. She was invited to play on ABC's "Match Game."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MATCH GAME")

ALEC BALDWIN: Leslie, are you in?

SHAHANI: The celebrity game show hosted by Alec Baldwin.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MATCH GAME")

LESLIE JONES: This is too much.

SHAHANI: Jones was running around stage being a goofball doing one of her favorite things, making people laugh.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MATCH GAME")

JONES: (Yelling) Colleen.

SHAHANI: And then it all went downhill. For a few months now, some have complained about the all-female "Ghostbusters" remake. But over the next few hours, Leslie Jones became the singular focus of an all-out trolling campaign in which Jones was called the N-word, a big-lipped coon, an orangutan. Monday morning, 9:12 a.m., Jones spoke out publicly.

She tweeted that some people here are disgusting and, quote, "I'm blocking your filthy ass." Then she began retweeting attacks, posting as often as every minute. At 12:45 p.m., she tweeted, "OK, I've been called apes and even got a pic with semen on my face".

DAVID HACKETT: She was trying to bat off flies. Like, literally, she was trying to defend herself one tweet at a time.

SHAHANI: David Hackett saw it unfold and decided to jump in, tweet back in her defense.

HACKETT: She was just one person. And she was trying to keep pace with, you know, at first five, then 10, then 20.

SHAHANI: Notably, a feature built into Twitter ended up drawing in more people, trending topics. Leslie Jones was trending. That's how Hackett stumbled in. By 6:38 p.m., Jones tweeted, "Twitter, I understand you got free speech. I get it. But there has to be some guidelines".

HACKETT: About five minutes later - maybe about 10 minutes later, Jack at Twitter said, hey, Leslie Jones, can you DM me?

SHAHANI: Jack Dorsey is Twitter's CEO. What happened in that exchange is not clear. Jones did not respond to NPR's interview request. And Twitter released a statement, not about this attack but about abuse in general. The company admits it has not done enough in the past and says they're working on new procedures to reduce the burden on the person being targeted.

The company also moved to suspend one user in particular, Milo Yiannopoulos of the conservative site Breitbart. David Hackett makes an interesting observation.

HACKETT: On his own Twitter page was perfectly clean, right? He's talking about going to the prom.

SHAHANI: But according to other users, Yiannopoulos was on two other platforms, 4chan and reddit, mobilizing against Jones, which means she and Twitter would have to go outside one social network to others to get a full picture.

HACKETT: That's when I knew that this was, like, a larger thing.

SHAHANI: Leslie Jones tweeted well into the next morning. At 4:13 a.m., she had to explain trolls were making fake screenshots of her attacking others as, quote, "faggots" and that she was not the abuser here. Mary Numaire, who also tweeted in Jones' defense, flagged down dozens of accounts. When she's done that in the past, she says, Twitter gave her a stock reply, no terms violated.

This time, she hasn't gotten a verdict yet, which she takes as a good sign.

MARY NUMAIRE: I can only assume that they're handling this matter a little bit more in depth than they have with other issues. That's what I hope.

SHAHANI: Yiannopoulos emailed NPR that he would do an interview. But then when called repeatedly, he did not answer the phone. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.