Twitter, Shadowbanning, and Conservatives

Former Breitbart news editor Milo Yiannopoulos is familiar with the suppression of free speech and the First Amendment by the politically correct left, having a speech at UC Berkeley canceled after violent riots by the politically intolerant left. Pundits have dubbed the suppression of conservative speakers on campus the “heckler’s veto” which allows the arbiters of political correctness to deny a forum to those they disagree with.

Yiannopoulos is also familiar with another form of suppression of free speech, this time in social media forums such as Twitter called “shadowbanning”. Tweets of the kind President Trump is famous for are banned from being seen by other than a given account’s followers, limiting visibility. Twitter and its support team claim it is merely spanking those who violate their rules and terms of service, but Yiannopoulos thinks it is political correctness run amok with the goal of, as at Berkeley and elsewhere, of silencing conservatives:

Rumours that Twitter has begun ‘shadowbanning’ politically inconvenient users have been confirmed by a source inside the company, who spoke exclusively to Breitbart Tech. His claim was corroborated by a senior editor at a major publisher.

According to the source, Twitter maintains a ‘whitelist’ of favoured Twitter accounts and a ‘blacklist’ of unfavoured accounts. Accounts on the whitelist are prioritised in search results, even if they’re not the most popular among users. Meanwhile, accounts on the blacklist have their posts hidden from both search results and other users’ timelines….

The pattern of shadowban reports, which skews towards the alt-right, the populist right, and cultural libertarians, follows close on the heels of Twitter’s establishment of a “Trust and Safety Council” packed with left-wing advocacy groups, as well as Islamic research centre the Wahid Institute....

With shadowbans now confirmed by an inside source, there is little room for doubt that the platform is intent on silencing conservatives. Furthermore, it has demonstrated a complete lack of regard for transparency, concealing its shadowbanning system from users and hiding its political bias behind a veneer of opposition to online abuse….

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says the purpose of shadowbanning is to limit the alleged abuse by spammers, so-called “trolls” and those who are just downright offensive and abusive. As Fortune magazine reported:

For some time now, Twitter has been trying to curb abuse and harassment on the service, after admitting that it hasn't done enough to stop trolls and deliberate misbehavior in the past. The latest step the company is taking is to throttle the reach of users it believes are being offensive or targeting others for abuse….

Twitter's crackdown on abuse started after CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the company was committing itself to tackling the problem, and also to doing so transparently and through an "open and real-time dialogue" with users.

The problem is that many users, particularly conservative ones, were never notified, never given their day in court, so to speak, and had to find out they were being shadowbanned from others. I know because I have a Twitter account that has been shadowbanned with no explanation from Twitter. This account has been used to promote my articles from my days as a contributor to Investor Business Daily’s editorial page to my current blogging at American Thinker. I tweet often, attaching photos and graphics to illustrate my point, and have even been written up in the Washington Post for my Twitter reach, my late but strong support for Donald Trump, and my use of schedulers, what some would call “bots”.

Does that make me a troll or a spammer? Technology has given us many tools to magnify our voices from iPhones and iPads to Twitter itself. Using schedulers to regularly tweet is just a new technology, one which Twitter allows, by the way, and to critics I say, good luck with your rotary dial phones and typewriters.

Twitter already allows users to mute accounts whose tweets they don’t want to see or to outright block those accounts they find annoying or even offensive. Twitter doesn’t have to do it for them by suppressing the free speech of certain individuals or groups.

Yes, I know it is Twitter’s sandbox and, yes, there are spammers uninterested in any real dialogue. Yes, there are porn bots and photos any reasonable person would find offensive. There are Twitter equivalents to yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre. But Twitter has gone beyond enforcing rules of civility to enforcing its view of political correctness, punishing conservatives who use social media, particularly those who are good at it.

Even Matt Drudge found himself caught up in Twitter’s censorship, further confirming the fact that Twitter shadow bans those on the right side of the political spectrum. As Breitbart reported:

Earlier today, users on Twitter reported that tweets from the official account of the Drudge Report were being hidden from users behind a “sensitive content” filter.

A screenshot published on the British news site Westmonster revealed the filtering of the Drudge Report, one of the largest and highest-profile conservative sites on the web….

The censorship was lifted later in the day, and tweets from the Drudge Report are now visible, even when users opt-in to Twitter’s “sensitive content” filtering. However, Twitter has not explained why the Drudge Report was placed behind the filter in the first place, and has not responded to a request for comment from Breitbart News at this time.Twitter started experimenting with labelling entire user accounts as “sensitive” earlier this month. Recently, we reported that the social media company is using IBM’s “Watson” supercomputer to identify “abusive” accounts on Twitter. Twitter’s bias against conservatives is well-known. The company frequently bans or locks the accounts of conservative users who have not broken its terms of service, while allowing threats of violence against the President and First Lady to run rampant on the platform.

Indeed, with Twitter it depends on whose ox is being gored. Is Scott Adams, the creator of the cultural icon of all cubicle dwellers, Dilbert, a Twitter troll or spammer of offensive tweets? Or was it his support of Donald Trump that put him in Twitter’s censorship crosshairs? In a blog post, Adams suggested that Twitter has shadowbanned him and other conservatives for political reasons:

The Constitution guarantees every citizen the right of free speech. But what happens when the most effective channels for that speech are corporations such as Twitter and Facebook? Does the government have an obligation to make sure those companies are not limiting free speech for some classes of users?...

…shouldn’t the federal government get involved if a few monopoly corporations start to control the national conversation by filtering out voices that disagree with them? 

That seems to be the situation right now. For example, Twitter is apparently “shadowbanning” me because of my past Trump tweets, or so I assume. That means my tweets only go out to a subset of my followers. The rest don’t know I tweeted. My followers tell me this is the case. They have to visit my timeline to see my tweets….

I can’t be 100% sure that Twitter is shadowbanning me to limit my political speech. They might have a bug in their system, for example. But it would be a big coincidence if they are not, given how many Trump supporters were targeted by Twitter in the past year. 

Twitter users like Adams usually find they are being shadowbanned only when their followers and others notice and report to them. Twitter says it gives warnings and details when its thought police are offended but Twitter, no pun intended, likes to operate in the shadows. Twitter needs to know that George Orwell’s 1984 was a warning, not a technical manual. Its insidious form of censorship goes beyond what even Big Brother could have dreamt of.

Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.