The Twitter Files: shadowbanning is real

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Flat White

10 December 2022

5:00 AM

Headlines are awash with the accusation that former CEO Jack Dorsey – and other members of the former Twitter team – were extremely flexible with the truth when they denied the existence of ‘shadowbanning’.

Shadowbanning is the long-suspected behaviour of social media companies where they employ unexplained and secretive algorithms to hide or discourage particular users and topics. This may mean a person’s posts are rarely seen (as if they were whispering to no one) or a topic like Hunter Biden’s Laptop is deliberately prevented from rising to the top of the social conversation, despite public interest.

This tool is also used to amplify left-wing publications and suffocate their competition found in independent or conservative-leaning publications, severely tilting the cultural conversation in favour of the Left and giving the perception that only left-wing thought is popular. This is a corruption of the free press, a violation of free speech, and could end up amounting to election interference.

Shadowbanning is a form of Big Brother manipulation, or to be frank, it is editorial behaviour prohibited by the rules that govern the operation of social media platforms that allows them to publish third-party content in real-time without being sued.

In part two of The Twitter Files titled: Twitter’s Secret Blacklists, journalist Bari Weiss revealed the elaborate system set up by the previous management to push a left-wing agenda online by applying a variety of tags to Twitter accounts.

The repercussions of this story – and the follow-up tweets by Elon Musk – are quite shocking.

First, here is the latest update in full. Bari Weiss writes:

A new #TwitterFiles investigation reveals that teams of Twitter employees build blacklists, prevent disfavoured tweets from trending, and actively limit the visibility of entire accounts or even trending topics – all in secret, without informing users.

Twitter once had a mission ‘to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers’. Along the way, barriers nevertheless were erected.

Take, for example, Standford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya (@DrJBhattacharya) who argued that Covid lockdowns harm children. Twitter secretly placed him on a ‘Trends Blacklist’, which prevented his tweets from trending.

This was accompanied by the following screenshot that shows Dr Bhattacharya’s account with a ‘Trends Blacklist’ and ‘Recent Abuse Strike’ against his name. He is also a writer at The Spectator Australia who recently spoke in Australia about the state of medical freedom in the age of Covid.

In response, Bhattacharya replied, ‘Still trying to process my emotions on learning that Twitter blacklisted me. The thought that will keep me up tonight: censorship of scientific discussion permitted policies like school closures and a generation of children were hurt. I’m curious about what role the government played in Twitter’s suppression of Covid policy discussion. We will see with time, I suppose. Thank you @bariweiss and @elonmusk. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.’

Musk replied, ‘The Sun is coming.’ and then linked Bhattacharya to a YouTube video of Boney M. ‘Sunny’.

Weiss continued:

Or consider the popular right-wing talk show host, Dan Bongino (@dbongino), who at one point was slapped with a ‘Search Blacklist’.

Twitter set the account of conservative activist Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) to ‘Do Not Amplify’.

Twitter denied that it does such things. In 2018, Twitter’s Vijaya Gadde (then Head of Legal Policy and Trust) and Kayvon Beykpour (Head of Product) said: ‘We do not shadow ban.’ They added: ‘And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.’

What many people call ‘shadow banning’ Twitter executives and employees call ‘Visibility Filtering’ or ‘VF’. Multiple high-level sources confirmed its meaning.

Think about visibility filtering as being a way for us to suppress what people see to different levels. It’s a very powerful tool,’ one senior Twitter employee told us.

VF’ refers to Twitter’s control over user visibility. It used VF to block searches of individual users; to limit the scope of a particular tweet’s discoverability; to block select users’ posts from ever appearing on the ‘trending’ page; and from inclusion in hashtag searches. All without users’ knowledge.

We control visibility quite a bit. And we control the amplification of your content quite a bit. And normal people do not know how much we do,’ one Twitter engineer told us. Two additional Twitter employees confirmed.

The group that decided whether to limit the reach of certain users was the Strategic Response Team – Global Escalation Team, or SRT-GET. It often handled up to 200 ‘cases’ a day.

But there existed a level beyond official ticketing, beyond the rank-and-file moderators following the company’s policy on paper. That is the ‘Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support’ known as ‘SIP-PES’.

This secret group included Head of Legal, Policy, and Trust (Vijaya Gadde), the Global Head of Trust & Safety (Yoel Roth), subsequent CEOs Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal, and others. This is where the biggest, most politically sensitive decisions got made. ‘Think high follow account, controversial,’ another Twitter employee told us. For these ‘there would be no ticket or anything’.

One of the accounts that rose to this level of scrutiny was @libsoftiktok – an account that was on the ‘Trends Blacklist’ and was designated as ‘Do Not Take Action on User Without Consulting With SIP-PES’. The account – which Chaya Raichik began in November 2020 and now boasts over 1.4 million followers – was subjected to six suspensions in 2022 alone, Raichik says. Each time, Raichik was blocked from posting for as long as a week.

Twitter repeatedly informed Raichik that she had been suspended for violating Twitter’s policy against ‘hateful conduct’, but an internal SIP-PES memo from October 2022, after her seventh suspension, the committee acknowledged that, ‘LTT has not directly engaged in behaviour violative of the Hateful policy.’

The committee justified her suspensions internally by claiming her posts encouraged online harassment of ‘hospitals and medical providers’ by insinuating ‘that gender-affirming healthcare is equivalent to child abuse or grooming.’

Compare this to what happened when Raichik herself was doxxed on November 21, 2022. A photo of her home with her address was posted in a tweet that garnered more than 10,000 likes. When Raichik told Twitter that her address had been disseminated, she says Twitter Support responded with this message: ‘We reviewed the reported content, and didn’t find it to be in violation of the Twitter rules.’ No action was taken. The doxxing tweet is still up.

In internal Slack messages, Twitter employees spoke of using technicalities to restrict the visibility of tweets and subjects. Here’s Yoel Roth, Twitter’s then Global Head of Trust & Safety, in a direct message to a colleague in early 2021:

A lot of times, SI has used technicality spam enforcements as a way to solve a problem created by Safety under-enforcing their policies. Which, again, isn’t a problem per se – but it keeps us from addressing the root cause of the issue, which is that our Safety policies need some attention.” – Yoel Roth

Six days later, in a direct message with an employee on the Health, Misinformation, Privacy, and Identity research team, Roth requested more research to support expanding ‘no-removal policy interventions like disabling engagements and deamplification/visibility filtering.’

The hypothesis underlying much of what we’ve implemented is that if exposure to, e.g., misinformation directly causes harm, we should use remediations that reduce exposure, and limiting the spread/virality of content is a good way to do that. We got Jack on board with implementing this for civic integrity in the near term, but we’re going to need to make a more robust case to get this into our repertoire of policy remediations – especially for other policy domains.” – Yoel Roth

Following this release, journalist Ian Miles Cheong asked:

‘So, here’s a question for Elon Musk and Bari Weiss: were any political candidates – either in the US or elsewhere – subject to shadowbanning while they were running for office or seeking re-election?’

To which Elon Musk swiftly replied, ‘Yes.’ Musk has not released the names of those people, but there’s every chance he will given that he has informed users that they will soon be able to check the real status of their account. He added, ‘Controversial decisions were often made without getting Jack’s approval and he was unaware of systemic bias. The inmates were running the asylum.’

He also said, ‘True, some accounts on the right were suspended even with Twitter internally acknowledged that no rules were broken.’

Perhaps more importantly, in a slightly different thread on the same day, Musk discussed the Left’s stranglehold on Silicon Valley in a more general sense. ‘Most engineers don’t feel strongly about politics, but do want to work with other great engineers. Silicon Valley has [the] world’s best engineering talent, but is co-located with San Francisco, which is far left. Thus, far left gained control of an incredibly powerful info weapon.’

Musk has wasted no time ‘outing’ the hypocrisy of former staff, such as Vijaya Gadde by reposting her tweet: ‘Twitter exists to serve the public conversation, enabling important discussions around the world to occur. Favouring one specific ideology or belief goes against everything we stand for.’

This is, and always was, a total crock of rubbish from Vijaya.

The person who may face the most severe scrutiny is former CEO Jack Dorsey who tweeted out:

‘Following up on this with a lot more detail. We don’t shadow ban, and we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints. We do rank tweets by default to make Twitter more immediately relevant (which can be flipped off).’

This simply isn’t true, with Twitter confirmed to employ multiple and well-established shadowbanning tools.

Jack also said, when directly criticised by conservatives about perceived shadowbanning:

‘A short thread addressing some issues folks are encountering as a result of our conversational health work, specifically the perception of “shadowbanning” based on content or ideology. It suffices to say we have a lot more work to do to earn people’s trust on how we work. To be clear, our behavioural ranking doesn’t make judgments based on political views or the substance of tweets. We recently publicly testified to Congress on this topic.’

Jack Dorsey testified in front of a 2018 congressional committee that Twitter did not censor its users. The questioning by Mike Doyle directly asked if Twitter was censoring people and shadowbanning Republicans, allegations Dorsey denied.

Of course, far-left publications like Vox wrote headlines at the time, How hysteria over Twitter shadow-banning led to a bizarre congressional hearing subtitled, Jack Dorsey’s day on Capitol Hill was a waste of everyone’s time in an article which called shadowbanning a ‘conspiracy theory’. The author of that particularly poorly aged article, Aja Romano, now has a pinned tweet explaining that he is ‘mostly gone from Twitter’.

Silence appears to be the response of choice from most people named or accused of engaging in Twitter’s shadowban behaviour. It’s no wonder Twitter’s executive staff looked so miserable when he walked into HQ for the first time… Musk is not only embarrassing them, he is crucifying their reputations while exonerating conservatives who have been the victims of abuse by Twitter for years.

This story is not only about Twitter. The censorship of conservatives on social media is replicated in every aspect of activist-controlled society. Whether it’s politics, education, academia, or business – there are layers of vicious censorship silencing one side of the conversation while allowing the other to run in manic circles.

Take a good look at what’s been happening at Twitter – and double it for the rest of society.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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