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Twitter admits dragging feet on trolls, bans Milo Yiannopoulos

The social network is promising to take a harder stance on online nastiness after suspending the account of conservative firebrand @Nero.

Milo Yiannopoulos has been suspended from Twitter.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Milo Yiannopoulos, the self-described "most fabulous supervillian on the internet," has been suspended from Twitter, as the social media network also admitted it needs to be quicker to block trolls.

The conservative commentator, known on Twitter as @Nero, is famous (or infamous) for comments such as "feminism is cancer" and has been condemned in online circles as a vicious troll.

But Yiannopoulos also commands tens of thousands of followers on social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Vine, where his accounts are still active. These followers are also out in force on social media, with the #FreeMilo hashtag trending on Twitter (though that hashtag has pulled in critics and supporters alike).

Nero's suspension comes after a recent tweet storm that saw some Twitter users bombarding "Ghostbusters" star Leslie Jones with racist and misogynist tweets tied to her appearance in the female-led film remake.

"Twitter I understand you got free speech I get it," Jones tweeted Monday. "But there has to be some guidelines when you let spread like that."

Other Twitter users accused Yiannopoulos of inciting his followers to wage a flame war against Jones, calling on the company to ban him and kicking off the hashtag #BanNero. But Yiannopoulos himself took to his Facebook page saying he has "no regrets" about targeting Jones.

Twitter's rank and file have long called on moderators at the social network to ban Yiannopoulos and trolls more generally, saying the platform has been too slow to respond to the aggressive actions of some users. Now, it seems, Twitter agrees.

The social media service, which counts 310 million monthly active users, isn't alone in grappling with the mean, the nasty and the brutish on the internet. In May, for instance, it and fellow online titans Facebook, YouTube and Microsoft agreed to a new code of conduct from the European Union that's meant to curb hate speech and terrorist propaganda. Years before that, Twitter and Facebook had already established dedicated teams to police their sites for racist or abusive posts.

In a statement on the suspension, provided to CNET, Twitter did not specifically mention action taken against Yiannopoulos, but acknowledged it had not done enough to curb the kind of behavior seen in @Nero's feed.

People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Over the past 48 hours in particular, we've seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of Tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension.

We know many people believe we have not done enough to curb this type of behavior on Twitter. We agree. We are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to better allow us to identify and take faster action on abuse as it's happening and prevent repeat offenders.

The conservative news site Breitbart, which counts Yiannopolous among its editors, has posted a message reportedly sent by Twitter to Yiannopolous saying that his account would not be restored.

"Your account has been permanently suspended for repeated violations of the Twitter rules...specifically our rules prohibiting participating in or inciting targeted abuse of individuals," the message reads.

In a comment to Breitbart, Yiannopoulos said that Twitter was holding him responsible for the actions of his followers and that the ban would "blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans."