Twitter bans 'pharma bro' Martin Shkreli for harassing journalist

The social network suspended the account of the former US drug executive on Sunday after he repeatedly dogged a female journalist.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters/File
Martin Shkreli, former chief executive officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals and KaloBios Pharmaceuticals Inc, departs after a hearing at US Federal Court in Brooklyn in October.

Martin Shkreli, the former drug executive whose dramatic price raises drew widespread criticism last year, was suspended from Twitter on Sunday after harassing a female journalist. 

Sometimes known as the "pharma bro," Mr. Shkreli rose to national infamy in September 2015 when he raised the price of the lifesaving drug Daraprim by 5,000 percent. Now, he has come under fire again, this time for his behavior on social media. 

Shkreli, who supports President-elect Donald Trump, began harassing freelance journalist Lauren Duca over the social network after she penned a December op-ed piece for Teen Vogue arguing that Mr. Trump had psychologically manipulated American voters. The op-ed, titled "Donald Trump is Gaslighting America," claimed that Trump's rise to victory had "normalized deception" and urged readers to "regain control of the truth." 

In response, Shkreli tweeted at Ms. Duca about trying to date her. On Thursday, he sent her an invitation to attend the presidential inauguration as his guest, which Duca vigorously rejected.

Shkreli then posted a collage of photos of Duca, and changed his own profile picture to a photo of Duca and her husband, with Shkreli's face superimposed over that of Duca's husband.

His account was suspended after Duca retweeted the photos and asked the social network's founder Jack Dorsey why they were allowed on Twitter.

"Why is harassment an automatic career hazard for a woman receiving any amount of professional attention?" she tweeted on Sunday.

Laments of sexist, racist, and otherwise offensive tweets became increasingly common during the polarizing 2016 election season, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in October:

Social media, especially around election time, has a tendency to become an "ugly soapbox" for people of all political leanings, Brian Solis, principal analyst at the research firm Altimeter Group, told CIO: "It brings out the darker side of digital introverts in that we are willing to say anything ... without logically thinking about its impact on what's reality and what people will think about us beyond this election."

Twitter in particular, which does not require users to use a real name or photo and allows any user to tag any other user in a tweet, has allowed those wishing to spread racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic messages to more easily attract the attention of high-profile figures. 

"Social media affords users the unique ability to send hateful speech that both targets a specific individual, intimidating them, and reaches a broad audience of like-minded individuals – the user's followers," Drew Margolin, assistant professor of communication at Cornell University, told the Monitor at the time. "It's like being able to shout obscenities at a ballplayer at the stadium where only he and your friends hear you." 

In November, Twitter announced that it would crack down on hate speech by providing new tools, including a mute button. But the social network's stricter policies have raised some questions about what constitutes hate speech or abuse and where to draw the line. Shkreli, for his part, told The Verge that he didn't see his actions as harassment and didn't consider them to be "against Duca's will" because she hadn't responded to his messages or told him to stop.

This report contains material from Reuters. 

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