A Wednesday article in VICE confirmed a report from last week by the Daily Wire‘s Ryan Saavedra which revealed that Twitter has been “shadow banning” conservative users by limiting the number of people who are able to view content from the affected users.
While last week’s discussion focused on a site-wide “Quality Filter Discrimination” shadow ban, which prevents anyone not already following a user from viewing their posts, Vice notes that many conservative accounts aren’t able to be found when typing names into the Twitter search engine.
The Republican Party’s chair Ronna McDaniel, several conservative Republican Congressmen, and Donald Trump Jr.’s spokesman no longer appear in the auto-populated drop-down search box on Twitter, VICE News has learned. It’s a shift that diminishes their reach on the platform — and the same one being deployed against prominent racists to limit their visibility. The profiles continue to appear when conducting a full search — but not in the more convenient and visible drop-down bar. (The accounts appear to also populate if you already follow the person.)
Vice found the same wasn’t true for Democrats:
Democrats are not being “shadow banned” in the same way, according to a VICE News review. McDaniel’s counterpart, Democratic Party chair Tom Perez, and liberal members of Congress — including Reps. Maxine Waters, Joe Kennedy III, Keith Ellison, and Mark Pocan — all continue to appear in drop-down search results. Not a single member of the 78-person Progressive Caucus faces the same in Twitter’s search.
After being shown screenshots of the searches, a Twitter spokesperson told VICE News: “We are aware that some accounts are not automatically populating in our search box and shipping a change to address this.” Asked why only conservative Republicans appear to be affected and not liberal Democrats, the spokesperson wrote that “I’d emphasize that our technology is based on account *behavior* not the content of Tweets.”
The undercover investigative journalists at Project Veritas even caught a Twitter employee admitting to the shadow bans in January:
Not only does Twitter shadow ban prominent Republicans, they also consider any Trump supporter who tweets about “God,” “guns,” or “the flag” a Russian bot (as seen in our undercover expose.) https://t.co/lxo0JoN2GP pic.twitter.com/MAPhk8tsvr
— James O’Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) 25 July 2018
Abhinav Vadrevu: “One strategy is to shadow ban so you have ultimate control. The idea of a shadow ban is that you ban someone but they don’t know they’ve been banned, because they keep posting but no one sees their content.”
“So they just think that no one is engaging with their content, when in reality, no one is seeing it. I don’t know if Twitter does this anymore.”
Meanwhile, Olinda Hassan, a Policy Manager for Twitter’s Trust and Safety team said on December 15th, 2017 at a Twitter holiday party that the development of a system of “down ranking” “shitty people” is in the works:
“Yeah. That’s something we’re working on. It’s something we’re working on. We’re trying to get the shitty people to not show up. It’s a product thing we’re working on right now.”
Twitter’s product lead Kayvon Beykpour issued a mostly useless explanation over the platform on Wednesday morning, suggesting that they’re “always working to improve our behavior-based ranking models,” and that their “breadth an accuracy doesn’t make judgements based on political views.”