“Twitter “SHADOW BANNING” prominent Republicans,” US President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday. “Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.” Trump was referring to allegations by some conservatives that their tweets were not showing up on Twitter search results. In a blog post the same day, Twitter claimed that they don’t shadow ban users.
In the post, Twitter said that they don’t shadowban, but that they do rank search results for ‘conversational health’, which results in a shadowban-y situation for those whose tweets are ranked lower. “Tweets from bad-faith actors who intend to manipulate or divide the conversation should be ranked lower,” Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s safety & trust lead and product lead respectively, said in the blog post.
What is shadowbanning?
Shadowbanning is when a social media website diminishes the visibility of a user without deleting or deactivating their profile, and this is often done without informing the user. On Reddit, for instance, shadow-banning was official policy for the longest time, as the link aggregator site’s administrators determined that it was the best way to get rid of bot accounts without tipping their creators off.
In 2015, Reddit phased shadowbanning for human users out, and said they would start suspending human users with notice, and shadowbanning would be reserved for spammers and bots. On Twitter, shadowbanning — which until recently the company was not entirely clear about — consisted of users’ tweets disappearing from their search results, and their tweets no longer appearing on their followers’ timelines.
“We don’t shadow ban” accounts, the company said, adding the caveat that “you may have to do more work to find them”.
Twitter: We don’t shadow ban.
Also Twitter: We kinda shadow ban. pic.twitter.com/pzYKLYUZUK
— Colin Moriarty (@notaxation) July 27, 2018
Twitter further said that the issue Trump and some conservative commentators were referring to was a bug in their search’s auto-complete, and that it affected “hundreds of thousands” of users. “The issue was broad-ranging and not limited to political accounts or specific geographies,” the company said. The company said that they have fixed this issue and will be doing more to improve their systems to detect situations like this.
Shadowbanning on Twitter in India
Some Indian Twitter users have been shadowbanned in the past. In September last year, for instance, James Wilson, a prominent government critic who frequently tweeted against demonetisation and the Aadhaar project, was not showing up on Twitter search results. With Safe-search switched off, only his profile card showed up in search, with tweets nowhere to be seen:
James Wilson's account has been marked as sensitive for some reason.
1: Twitter with safe-search on.
2: Twitter with safe-search off. pic.twitter.com/duyEgwSoTI
— Aroon Deep (@AroonDeep) September 5, 2017
The conservative commentator Madhu Kishwar has also claimed that her account was shadowbanned, with follower counts stagnating and tweets not reaching followers:
I have been informed that @TwitterIndia has put my handle under #ShadowBan . Therefore, my tweets not reaching my followers. My average increase of followers used to be 2500 to 3000 per day. Now stagnant & my posts being #ShadowBanned . @TwitterSupport
— MadhuPurnima Kishwar (@madhukishwar) January 30, 2018