Have you heard of the Krassenstein brothers? They run a politics website called Hill Reporter but they are probably best known for being “first responders” on Twitter. They would literally race to be the first to respond to President Trump’s tweets with snarky remarks contradicting him and this would, in turn, get them a lot of attention and followers. More recently they seemed to be also striving to be the top response on many of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ tweets, though in that case, their remarks were generally supportive. Over time the brothers had built up a sizable following but yesterday Twitter handed down a permanent ban of both brothers. From the Daily Beast:

“The Twitter Rules apply to everyone,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. “Operating multiple fake accounts and purchasing account interactions are strictly prohibited. Engaging in these behaviors will result in permanent suspension from the service.”…

The brothers appeared to be unusually good at getting attention on Twitter. While the Twitter statement doesn’t explain what the Krassensteins allegedly did to illicitly promote their accounts, “fake interactions” could engage buying bots to retweet their posts, or buying fake followers to inflate their profiles on the site.

The brothers published an open letter to Twitter on their own site stating they did nothing wrong:

The claim that we purchased Twitter accounts and interactions is not true.  Like we said before, we never did this…

The idea of us buying interactions is just crazy to me.   We have 1.7 million followers.  Why would we pay anyone to interact with us? There is absolutely no reason for us to do this.  We have always been super careful to obey all of Twitter’s rules.

Ed Krassenstein then suggests a possible explanation for their perma-ban, one which involves the origin of one of their accounts as a Justin Bieber fan club (yes really):

Because our Twitter accounts were unofficial fan clubs for musicians previously. (i.e. my account was a Bieber Fan Club account that we used to help promote a new website we were launching –AY.com — I know it’s kinda embarrassing to admit), perhaps Twitter thought that we purchased this account from someone and then rebranded it. (Note: we are not Justin Bieber fans, not that there is anything wrong with that). I can prove that this account was mine from the start. Twitter can just look at the IP addresses. The only places it was ever accessed from from start to finish was Fort Myers and Cape Coral Florida (with the exception of a few vacations I’ve gone on)….

My account was built up to over 200,000 followers when I ran the Justin Bieber fan club account.  When AY.com never made it, I changed it to an Anti-Trump account (Jail Donald Trump) and began replying to Trump’s tweets with facts to prove his statements wrong.  Then people began wondering who was behind the account, so I changed it to my real name.

I don’t really get why someone would start an unofficial Bieber fan club if he’s not a Belieber. Is there money to be made in that?

But putting Bieber aside, there is a real issue here. Here’s what I wrote when Twitter banned Alex Jones:

As I said yesterday, I don’t have any use for Alex Jones. I’m not interested in defending him or his media empire. I do worry about the precedent being set here with the social media sites deciding as a group that someone should be silenced, partly in response to pressure from the left. That pressure to silence people the left disagrees with is not going to stop here. The far left’s desire for a safe space is never satisfied. And while this isn’t technically censorship (because Twitter is a private company), it does seem like a slippery slope in an area Jack Dorsey himself called a “digital public square” several times yesterday.

Similarly, I really have no use for the Krassenstein brothers. They figured out a gimmick to get attention on Twitter and ride the resistance wave. I’m not going to miss them. That said, I still worry about Twitter banning people unnecessarily, especially people engaged in political speech. I understand that as a private company they have a right to do it. It’s their platform. But I think they ought to respect the concept of free speech as broadly as possible, especially since the CEO says he wants Twitter to be the digital public square.

In this case, Twitter claims the Krassensteins weren’t banned for anything they said but for some sort of account behavior. But they haven’t really provided any evidence the rest of us can evaluate (at least not that I’ve seen). If they did something sketchy, why not just lay it out so everyone can see it was a real violation, not the result of some sort of partisan flame war. And speaking of sketchy, it’s worth noting that last year Lachlan Markay at the Daily Beast reported the brothers had been accused of being involved in online Ponzi schemes:

In late 2016, federal agents showed up at the Fort Myers, Florida, homes of brothers Brian and Edward Krassenstein, seizing computers and financial records, and hauling off “at least 20 to 30 bundles of stuff.”…

According to the feds, the brothers also, until recently, ran websites that propped up fraudulent online financial scams. Law enforcement officials last year seized nearly half a million dollars from the brothers, money that prosecutors say was derived from wire fraud. The Krassensteins, who have not been charged with any crimes, maintain that they did nothing wrong or illegal.

So maybe these are just a couple of sketchy dudes who deserve the ban. And based on some of these previous reports, I’m more than willing to believe that. But again, I think it would be an improvement if Twitter could spell out the justification a little better not just in this case but in all cases where prominent political people get a permanent ban.