The practice of “shadow bans,” often referred to as “visibility filtering” internally, is detailed in a recent investigation. Twitter’s ‘secret blacklists’ have been exposed.
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According to internal correspondence and interviews with several high-level corporate sources, Twitter has developed a number of barriers and tools for moderators to prevent particular tweets and topics from trending or restrict the exposure of entire accounts without users’ knowledge.
According to journalist Bari Weiss, who posted the second installment of the so-called “Twitter Files” in a protracted thread on Thursday night, despite frequent public assurances by leading Twitter officials that the company does not “shadow ban” users, especially not “based on political viewpoints or ideology,” the procedure did exist underneath the euphemism of “visibility filtering”.
“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 said, while another admitted that “normal people do not know how much we do.”
Twitter moderators can add a user to categories like “Trends Blacklist,” “Search Blacklist,” and “Do Not Amplify” to confine the reach of a given tweet’s or an entire account’s discoverability – all without the user’s awareness or notice.
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Weiss stated that the measures were also used to constrain the reach of academics, such as Stanford University’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, who sparked controversy by questioning the efficacy of Covid-19 lockdowns and other pandemic mandates. According to the records, he wound himself on Twitter’s “Trends Blacklist,” which kept his posts from appearing in the site’s trending category.
Above the normal moderators, meanwhile, was another “secret group” that dealt with concerns involving “high follower,” “controversial,” and other prominent individuals. The team was known as “Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support,” and it featured high-level executives such as Vijaya Gadde, the former Head of Legal, Policy, and Trust, Yoel Roth, the Global Head of Trust and Safety, and CEOs Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal.
One notable instance is when the top-level moderation team decided to repeatedly suspend the Libs of TikTok account, which regularly posted content making a mockery of liberals and progressives and has amassed more than 1.4 million followers. Despite being informed that the account had broken Twitter’s “hateful conduct” policy, a company memo published internally in October admitted that the account had not actually “directly engaged in behavior violative of the Hateful Conduct policy.”
The ‘Site Integrity Policy’ group took up a brand-new stance, claiming that Chaya Raichik, the lady behind the Libs of TikTok account, “encouraged online harassment.” When Raichik’s personal information was leaked online, Twitter failed to take action, claiming that tweets featuring her home location and images of her home did not violate any of the platform’s guidelines.
The documents’ publication was supported by Twitter’s new CEO, Elon Musk, who fired several top officials, including Gadde and Roth, and overturned some of the company’s previous choices, such as indefinitely banning former President Donald Trump’s account, after taking over in October.
“We’re just getting started on our reporting,” Weiss noted, pledging that the next episode of the Twitter Files will be published soon by journalist Matt Taibbi, who launched the series last week with disclosures about a company-wide attempt to squelch a damaging report about Joe Biden’s family.