Does Twitter shadow ban users? Definitely not, says Twitter. Do they do something that sounds like a less extreme form of shadow banning? Well, you can be the judge on that. Here’s what Twitter wrote Thursday in a blog post [emphasis added]:
People are asking us if we shadow ban. We do not. But let’s start with, “what is shadow banning?”
The best definition we found is this: deliberately making someone’s content undiscoverable to everyone except the person who posted it, unbeknownst to the original poster.
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.
Credit to Cuffy who highlighted that parenthetical above. So, if you don’t do that extra work, you won’t see tweets from some people you follow? Are the people on the extra-work-protocol informed about their status? Are their tweets also downgraded in search results? Are the people following them aware that extra work is required to see their tweets?
It may not be shadow banning but it sounds like shadow banning lite. The purpose of shadow banning is to limit people’s interactions to zero and cause them to abandon the platform. Twitter’s version of this wouldn’t limit interactions to zero but it would certainly reduce them dramatically. And that would limit the growth of those accounts over time.
Twitter is quick to point out this is only about behavior and has nothing to do with partisan viewpoint. Except it may not be the user’s behavior that’s determining it. Remember, this is all in response to a Vice story about Republicans not showing up in the auto-suggest for search results. Twitter’s blog post explains how that happened without reference to anyone’s content:
Here are some of the signals we use to determine bad-faith actors:
Specific account properties that indicate authenticity (e.g. whether you have a confirmed email address, how recently your account was created, whether you uploaded a profile image, etc)
What actions you take on Twitter (e.g. who you follow, who you retweet, etc)
How other accounts interact with you (e.g. who mutes you, who follows you, who retweets you, who blocks you, etc)
That all sounds non-partisan, but as Uncle Jimbo pointed out yesterday, there’s evidence that partisans on the left and right behave differently on social media. Specifically, people on the left are significantly more likely to block people they disagree with politically. From the Washington Post:
Consistent liberals were the most likely group to block or unfriend someone because they disagreed with their political postings, with 44 percent saying they had “hidden, blocked, defriended, or stopped following someone” on Facebook due to their political postings. Only roughly one-third (31 percent) of consistent conservatives had done the same — although this might be attributable to lower levels of ideological diversity in their online ecosystem…
Liberals were also more likely to drop a friend in real life over politics. Nearly a quarter, or 24 percent, of consistent liberals told Pew that have stopped talking to or being friends with someone over politics, compared to 16 percent of consistent conservatives.
I can say that this accords with my own experience on Twitter. There are dozens (maybe hundreds?) of progressives who have blocked me, not because I’ve ever had an interaction with them but because a few years ago someone on the left was sending around block lists and I was included on those lists, along with a lot of other people they’d never interacted with. For many on the left, if you’re on the right you’re a “bad-faith actor” by definition.
Twitter says it doesn’t look at content when it downgrades accounts, it looks at behavior. But if the left is more censorious by nature than the right, the result is going to be more conservative accounts in the shadow banning lite category. That’s a de facto partisan advantage for the left, even if it’s been arrived at without looking at content.
Twitter should stop making it difficult for people to see the tweets of those they chose to follow. If they don’t like what someone is saying, they can mute them or even unfollow them. What’s the point of following someone if Twitter is still deciding you may not be able to see their tweets in your timeline?