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Trump, Twitter & The Shadow Ban

by Zia A., posted 1 month ago
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Last month fingers were tapping madly – in 280 characters or less on our platform of choice, and in much lengthier commentaries elsewhere – all up in arms over Trump’s charge that Twitter was shadow banning Republicans. Now if you don’t know what a shadow ban is, why POTUS is upset about it, or why you should care, then rest easy, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to lay it all out for you, in plain sight. No shadow banning here folks. Read on.

What happened?

On July 25, Vice ran a story reporting that, “Twitter is limiting the visibility of prominent Republicans in search results.” Conservative media outlets soon picked up the story. From there, it followed a now well-trodden path through Fox News, to President Trump, and directly (likely without much filter) onto the @realDonaldTrump account. It became a full-blown news story, good for at least a cycle or two, flaming the fire between the current White House administration and the media. It also added fodder to Trump’s ongoing war against the media, and his (unsubstantiated) claims of #fakenews.

Trump Twitter shadow ban

What is shadow banning?

Okay, so POTUS accused Twitter of shadow banning. What does that really mean? According to an article in The Washington Post, “The phrase ‘shadow banning’ is used in this case to describe a pattern in which certain Twitter accounts aren’t offered as suggestions when a user searches for them on Twitter.”

A Twitter blog post was a little more clear: “deliberately making someone’s content undiscoverable to everyone except the person who posted it, unbeknownst to the original poster.”

What happened here?

Normally, if you go to the search bar on Twitter and begin typing, a drop-down menu will appear, auto-populated with a list of suggested accounts. In this instance, a number of prominent Republican accounts simply weren’t appearing in that list. Users could still enter the account name and, when they searched, the account would come up. The account still appeared in a Google search and all the posts still existed. They just weren’t showing up in the list of suggestions offered up by Twitter.

For example, if you started typing “Ronna McDaniel” (GOP Chairwoman) into Twitter‘s search bar, @GOPChairwoman wouldn’t auto-populate. Had you gone directly to McDaniel’s account, you would have seen all her tweets and been able to engage and interact normally. It was just that she wasn’t showing up in the search tool.

How did Twitter respond?

Twitter immediately fixed the issue and addressed the accusations. Head of Product, Kayvon Beykpour, offered this explanation in a blog:

“We do not shadow ban. You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile). And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology. 

We do rank tweets and search results. We do this because Twitter is most useful when it’s immediately relevant. These ranking models take many signals into consideration to best organize tweets for timely relevance. We must also address bad-faith actors who intend to manipulate or detract from healthy conversation.”

The blog also pointed out that the issue had affected hundreds of thousands of accounts, and that the impact was not limited to specific political affiliations. Despite POTUS’ claims, Twitter said some Democratic politicians were also affected.

Trump Twitter shadow ban

Why does it matter?

Trump tweeted. Twitter fixed the problem. So why does any of this even matter?

Well, POTUS has been on the rampage against the media (including social platforms) since taking office in 2016. And Conservatives have long criticized Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms for their alleged bias against the GOP.

But as G.I. Joe once taught us, knowing is half the battle. Access to information and opinions – from all sides – is an essential part of a healthy society. There may not have been a shadow ban, but it’s still worth dragging the issue into the light.

Trump Twitter shadow ban 

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