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Twitter took down a tweet quoting English playwright William Shakespeare’s well-known “let’s kill all the lawyers” line from Henry VI Part 2 for violating its “abuse and harassment” rules.
Peter Kirwan, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham, tweeted out the quote as part of a message of support to the Nottingham Shakespeare Rebels acting group.
“Really excited for @NottsRebels taking the stage with the @TheRSC for today’s Henry VI press performances,” Kirwan tweeted. “Break a leg everyone, and do kill all the lawyers.”
The original quote is spoken by Dick the Butcher in Act 4 Scene 2 of the play as part of his response to rebel leader Jack Cade’s musings about what he would do if he were king. Some have interpreted the quote as a statement that opposes bureaucracy (which is represented by the lawyers) whereas others argue that the quote is a compliment to lawyers because they’re presented as maintaining justice in society.
But Twitter claimed that Kirwan’s tweet violated its rules on “abuse and harassment,” removed the tweet, and locked Kirwan out of his account.
“You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so,” Twitter told Kirwan. “This includes wishing or hoping that someone experiences physical harm.”
Twitter later said that the enforcement action on Kirwan’s account was an “error” and reversed it. However, the tweet hasn’t been restored.
Shakespeare Bulletin, a quarterly journal that Kirwan works for, mocked the tech giant’s censorship of Shakespeare’s famous quote.
“Careful what you quote,” Shakespeare Bulletin tweeted. “Make sure you go and see @TheRSC [Royal Shakespeare Company] and @NottsRebels in this apparently inflammatory production of the Henry VI plays which Must Not Be Discussed on the bird app.”
Twitter has a track record of removing this famous Shakespeare quote. Just over a week before Kirwan’s tweet was censored, the popular @Wwm_Shakespeare account, which tweets out Shakespeare quotes and has over 214,000 followers, had its tweet of this quote removed. Twitter cited the same “abuse and harassment” rules when taking down this tweet and rejected the account’s appeal.
This isn’t the only famous quote that has been censored under the tech giant’s vague and subjective censorship rules. Facebook and Instagram previously censored numerous posts containing the famous Thomas Paine quote: “He who dares not offend cannot be honest.” Facebook also scrubbed a post containing a historical quote from the early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo.
Outside of quotes, the tech giants have erased many other iconic historical references including historical Papua New Guinea photos, a famous photo of the 1970 Kent State shooting (which was censored on its anniversary), a photo of the Soviet flag raised over Reichstag on Victory in Europe (VE) day, and image search results for “tank man” on the anniversary of the Tiananmen square massacre.