PROF ELLWANGER: Anthropology prof loses Twitter account after woke pushback
Dr. Weiss is a professor of anthropology at San Jose State University, where she has become a target of the school’s faculty and administration for her outspoken positions regarding the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
On Twitter, Weiss has long maintained a profile photo of her holding an ancient human skull that is used in the teaching of anthropology courses.
In May, she found that Twitter had locked her account for violating rules banning “graphic violence or adult content.”
Adam Ellwanger is a professor of English at the University of Houston - Downtown. His primary areas of expertise are rhetoric and critical theory. He writes political and cultural commentary for outlets like Human Events, Quillette, American Greatness, The American Conservative, New Discourses, Minding the Campus, and many more.
For too long, both the letter and the application of the so-called “moderation” policies on Twitter favored left-leaning political perspectives on matters of public debate. But when pro-First Amendment advocate and billionaire Elon Musk purchased the site, many assumed that the playing field would soon be leveled. Unfortunately, it seems that removing the platform’s biases is taking longer than expected. This is illustrated by the recent suspension of Professor Elizabeth Weiss’s account after complaints that her profile image depicted “graphic violence” and “hateful conduct.” Her experience shows that Twitter is using something like the “preponderance of evidence standard” that colleges have used to adjudicate complaints – the same standard that DEI and Title IX offices have used to chill free speech on campus.
Dr. Weiss is a professor of anthropology at San Jose State University, where she has become a target of the school’s faculty and administration for her outspoken positions regarding the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which requires all public universities in California to return skeletal remains of native peoples to their modern descendants (in addition to any artifacts they deem “sacred”).
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Weiss has vocally opposed this legislation. She has criticized what she sees as universities’ over-eagerness to comply with demands that she sees as abuses of the law – some tribes have gone so far as to demand the transfer of modern radiological images of human remains, which they claim are also sacred. Further, Weiss has argued that repatriation will slow the development of new knowledge. She also believes that in some cases, the human remains in question will be better cared for and preserved if they are housed in a laboratory or curation facility.
Weiss’ views on these matters have made her a frequent target of students, faculty, tribal representatives, and left-activists. On Twitter, Weiss has long maintained a profile photo of her holding an ancient human skull that is used in the teaching of anthropology courses. This is not an uncommon image for an anthropologist who specializes in human remains. Despite that she had used this photo for nearly two years, at the beginning of May, she found that Twitter had locked her account for violating rules banning “graphic violence or adult content.” Twitter’s sudden concern over the image suggests that it was the subject of a complaint from another user – almost certainly someone motivated by disagreement with Weiss’s position on repatriation. Moderators gave Weiss the option of deleting the photo to restore her account, which they said would constitute an “acknowledgment” that the image in question was in violation.
Weiss refused to remove the image and appealed the suspension, but received only a response that indicated that Twitter is currently “reviewing a high volume of requests” from people with locked accounts. For this reason, representatives explained, it may take as long as a week for the site to respond to her appeal. In an email to Twitter, Weiss indicated that she was being targeted by people attempting to deplatform her for expressing her thoughts on the important academic matter of repatriation in the field of anthropology. Although Twitter confirmed it had added this contextual explanation to the case file, her account remains locked.
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Weiss later received a second notice from Twitter stating that her profile was flagged as containing "hateful or sensitive content." They provided a link to their "hateful conduct" policies which forbid users from “directly attack[ing]” people on the basis of any protected class. But it remains unclear how the image (which shows Weiss holding an ancient Peruvian skull that has undergone cranial modification) constitutes an attack on anyone. She maintains that she chose the photograph because it invites curiosity, allowing her to explain why it has an unusual shape, thereby enabling her to dispel myths about aliens while sparking an interest in the past and bone biology.
In the same way that individuals must undergo a painful investigatory process when they are the subject of politically-motivated complaints on campus, Twitter’s procedures seem to assume the legitimacy of complaints in that they punish first and ask questions later. In both cases, the accused party is subjected to a draconian process that itself serves as a mode of punishment – even if the complaint is ultimately found to be without merit. It is troubling that Twitter, an integral platform in public discourse and the process of democratic deliberation in America, is still employing the corrupt disciplinary practices of our colleges and universities. As many have noted in recent years, “We all live on campus now.”
Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.