Elon banned me for calling him a “bologna face.” I’m a history professor with 139 followers

It was an experiment: Could I get banned for nothing more than playground insults? Spoiler alert: Yes I could

Published December 30, 2022 5:45AM (EST)

Elon Musk (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Elon Musk (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

If Elon Musk steps down as Twitter CEO, as he claims, what will happen to all those banned accounts? Yes, I know the "mass unbanning of suspended Twitter users is underway," as CNN boldly announced on Dec. 8. Even neo-Nazis and apologists for rape have been welcomed back, and all manner of hate speech is thriving on Musk's new Twitter.  

But "abusive behavior" still supposedly violates the Twitter Rules, and my account has been blocked for weeks for such crimes. Specifically, I called Elon Musk a "poopy pants." Also a "bologna face."  

Others have been banished for lesser offenses, including a half-dozen prominent journalists. Their ousters provoked howls of protest, including threatened sanctions by the EU, but now they're back to tweeting. Not me. I'm still banned, and no one has come to my defense. Not even one of my 139 followers.  

I don't blame Musk. Twitter has standards, and it cannot countenance misinformation. You can't have 139 people thinking Mr. Musk leaves toenail clippings on the floor, as I tweeted on Nov. 21. Or that he has personal possession of Hunter Biden's laptop, as I posted the next day.

I'm not your usual Twitter troll, if there is such a thing. I'm a history professor who writes sleep-inducing books and articles weighed down by pages of footnotes. Until mid-November, I had tweeted not more than three dozen times since 2016. I said nothing noteworthy. Most of my 139 followers are other historians. Imagine the drama. 

So how did a Twitter nobody get banned? I'll let you in on a secret: It was all part of my master plan.

I hatched my scheme shortly after learning that Musk had reinstated the account of former President Donald J. Trump, a man who had literally used Twitter to amplify threats against his own vice president and incite an assault on Congress. I was horrified, and decided to register my protest by deleting my account.  

How did a Twitter nobody get himself banned for kindergarten-level name-calling, you ask? I will humbly confess it was all part of my genius master plan.

Then reality set in. What difference would that make? I had precious few followers. My infrequent posts had grossly violated Twitter etiquette by spelling words correctly and locating them within complete paragraphs. I also capitalized appropriately. With such a record, would anyone actually notice my protest? Also, I spent 30 seconds skimming an article about how to delete a Twitter account, and it looked like a pain. Who has the time?

That's when it hit me. I'd try an experiment guided by a simple research question: Is it easier to quit Twitter or get banned? Behind that question lurked another, arguably more interesting one: Could I get myself banned for lobbying nothing more than silly schoolyard insults at Musk, the kind that I heard in kindergarten — "bologna face" being an example of the genre? I set some clear rules: no profanity, no political insults, no references to Musk's real-world circumstances or personal life. I didn't want anyone to think for a moment that I was the actual Elon Musk, and I wanted the "insults" to be banal and harmless, maybe even wholesome (if that's a thing).

Inspired by the comedian Kathy Griffin, who had her account suspended for impersonating Musk, I made some changes. First, I deleted all my old tweets, one by one. (That did not take long.) Then I downloaded a picture of Musk, drew a mustache and glasses on his face, uploaded the new image as my avatar, and changed my screen name to "Elon Musk."  

I also edited my profile. My likes were now "the moon, working late, government subsidies, making people miserable, hate speech." And my dislikes were "complete paragraphs, evidence, nice people."  

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I spent the first few days of Thanksgiving week tweeting, beginning most of my posts with "My name is Elon." I'm sure it confused all 139 of my followers, who clearly must have believed I was the Elon Musk, especially with "@kennethosgood1" displayed conspicuously at the top.   

I got little traction with anything resembling a mass audience, but I did get one retweet and two hearts for "My name is Elon. I am a poopy pants." Hoping to get more attention, I turned to my tech-savvy teenager for help. She wrote my next Tweet: "My name is Elon. I like melon. Also, I like giant melon." That got two hearts. It almost went viral!

My daughter suggested I "write more like Elon."  She came up with "Why do we bake cookies, but cook bacon?" No likes for that one. But I got one  for "My name is Elon. I ski in jeans." We're from Colorado. Trust me, it's a serious insult. 

Over three days I posted about a dozen tweets. (I can't verify the number because my account is locked.) I tried various things to get more reactions, including changing my photo again and adding "@elonmusk" to posts. Using advanced math, I deduced that my posts may have been liked or retweeted by as many as seven people.  

Since I wasn't getting noticed or banned, I thought I had the answer to my first research question: it must just be easier to quit. Coming up with pithy insults several times a day for three days straight exhausted me. Clearly I'm not cut out for Twitter.  

Dejected, I didn't log in to my account for weeks. When I finally entered my credentials, intending to quit for good, I was greeted with an ominous notice: my account had been "permanently suspended." At last! 

Now I've got another research question. How hard is it to get reinstated after posting abusive content?  It looks easy. The rapper Ye was welcomed back mere weeks after grossly antisemitic comments, such as "death con [sic] 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE."  By such standards, my time on the blacklist ought to be short. 

Then again, I committed a more egregious offense. I offended the "chief twit." Will @kennethosgood1 be extended amnesty? I certainly hope not. Then I'd have to quit.

By Kenneth Osgood

Kenneth Osgood is professor of history at Colorado School of Mines and a former fellow at the National Endowment for the Humanities and Harvard. He has published five books on U.S. political and diplomatic history, and op-eds in the New York Times, CNN, the Denver Post and elsewhere.

MORE FROM Kenneth Osgood

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