One Tuesday, VICE News ran an article saying that some Republicans were being “shadow banned” on Twitter. And by Thursday morning, this vast media conspiracy had come to the attention of Donald Trump.
Twitter “SHADOW BANNING” prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
Shadow banning, or shadow boxing, is a system that has been applied by several websites where some forum users spam or otherwise dominate the conversation. An account that has been shadow banned still looks normal to the user, except no one else can see their posts. They’re essentially being allowed to scream into the ether.
But the problem with the VICE story is … Twitter hasn’t done it. As ThinkProgress notes, this was immediately obvious as even the accounts that VICE claimed had been “shadow banned” were still visible to users who followed their accounts. Still visible when someone published a link. Still visible when retweeted or liked. And in all ways acting just like a normal account.
VICE then went on to handily redefine what it meant by the term “shadow banned,” by saying that the accounts they claimed were shadow banned were not appearing in search results. To which Twitter replied … there was also no program to block Republican accounts from search, and they would look into it.
So … someone at VICE made a search, and failed to find results from some accounts they were looking for. They, rather than talk to Twitter about it, then jumped to the conclusion that Twitter was engaged in a partisan assault on some less-than-prominent Republicans for … reasons. And spun up an entire Twitter “policy” out of thin air. Which was more than enough for the whole alt-Reich to go into it’s default batsh#t crazy mode and for Trump to launch an investigation into a practice that doesn’t exist, and wouldn’t be illegal if it did.
Trump and Republicans are literally jumping at the shadow of shadow banning. But have no doubt, this will go down in the annals of all those Mean Things Progressives have done … next to the IRS stomping conservative groups, and across the hall from Pizzagate.
What was actually causing Republican accounts to disappear? It turns out to be not really a bug, but an algorithm.
Twitter really does ban some accounts—those of bots, spammers, and (after long delays and many complaints) those that spread hate speech and calls for violence. As it turns out, accounts that link to these accounts are down-rated when it comes to appearing in search results.
So the Republicans who were “banned/not-banned” turned themselves into shadows by frequently retweeting and liking posts that were vile, hateful, and simply untrue.
In other words, if an account interacts with those on the fringe, it will indicate to Twitter’s algorithm that that account is either a troll or is helping to spread false information. Because the right-wing is more prone to spread sensationalism and fake news, this change has trickled down to users like McDaniel and Surabian. But left-wing accounts haven’t been unscathed by this either, as Ashley Feinberg of the Huffington Post pointed out.
Expect Trump to launch an investigation any minute now into why InfoWars has been banned from YouTube.