Latest Batch of Twitter Docs Reveal Platform Actively “Blacklists” Certain Users, Topics
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY…
2003: Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is captured near his home town of Tikrit, during Operation Red Dawn by U.S. forces.
Twitter CEO Elon Musk released several new batches of internal documents, detailing how senior Twitter executives created secret “blacklists” to “de-amplify” certain users, tweets, and topics. The new “Twitter Files” also provided fresh insight on the decisions that led up to then-President Donald Trump being banned from Twitter last year.
The information was released to several journalists, who posted the information in lengthy tweet threads.
Conservative viewpoints, voices suppressed
“A new #TwitterFiles investigation reveals that teams of Twitter employees build blacklists, prevent disfavored tweets from trending, and actively limit the visibility of entire accounts or even trending topics—all in secret, without informing users,” journalist Bari Weiss wrote.
Weiss detailed how Stanford University’s Jay Bhattacharya was placed on a “Trends Blacklist” after arguing that COVID-19 lockdowns would be harmful to children.
“Or consider the popular right-wing talk show host, Dan Boningo, who at one point was slapped with a ‘Search Blacklist,'” Weiss wrote.
In another instance, Twitter set conservative activist Charlie Kirk’s account to “Do Not Amplify.”
Weiss noted that Twitter had denied doing things like shadow-banning accounts over ideological or political views.
“We do not shadow ban,” Twitter said in a statement in 2018. “And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”
But Twitter insiders told Weiss that shadow-banning — referred to by Twitter employees as “Visibility Filtering” or “VF” — is something the platform actively uses.
“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 told Weiss.
“We control visibility quite a bit. And we control the amplification of your content quite a bit. And normal people do not know how much we do,” a Twitter engineer told Weiss.
Popular LibsofTikTok account suspended without cause
Weiss revealed the company’s secret moderation group, the “Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support” (SIP-PES), which consisted of high-profile Twitter employees. SIP-PES included Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s Head of Legal, Policy, and Trust; Yoel Roth, Twitter’s Global Head of Trust & Safety; CEOs Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal; and others.
This group made “the biggest, most politically sensitive decisions,” according to Weiss. Unlike the suppression of accounts with small followings, these decisions didn’t have a corresponding ticket.
“One of the accounts that rose to this level of scrutiny was @libsoftiktok—an account that was on the ‘Trends Blacklist’ and was designated as ‘Do Not Take Action on User Without Consulting With SIP-PES,'” Weiss wrote.
The popular account was publicly suspended for hateful conduct, but internal emails indicated otherwise.
“LTT has not directly engaged in behavior violative of the Hateful Conduct policy,” the committee concluded.
The committee justified the account’s suspension by claiming that the posts encouraged online harassment of “hospitals and medical providers” by insinuating “that gender-affirming healthcare is equivalent to child abuse or grooming.”
Trump banned despite lack of policy violations
The newest installment of the “Twitter Files,” released on Monday, revealed that staffers and executives pushed for then-President Trump to be banned from the platform despite a distinct lack of policy violations.
Twitter banned Trump on Jan. 8, 2021 — two days after the much-discussed events of Jan. 6. Certain Twitter employees pushed for Trump’s account to be banned, arguing that his tweets had incited a riot. The platform’s monitors initially said they didn’t find any policy violations, saying they were “not seeing clear or coded incitement in the DJT tweet.”
But that didn’t stop them from banning the then-president’s account anyway.
“Less than 90 minutes after Twitter employees had determined that Trump’s tweets were not in violation of Twitter policy, Vijaya Gadde—Twitter’s Head of Legal, Policy, and Trust—asked whether it could, in fact, be ‘“’coded incitement to further violence,'” Weiss wrote.
Several hours later — after a lengthy discussion on the company’s internal messaging platform and a tense all-hands meeting — Twitter announced Trump’s permanent suspension “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
From the outset, our goal in investigating this story was to discover and document the steps leading up to the banning of Trump and to put that choice into context.
Ultimately, the concerns about Twitter’s efforts to censor news about Hunter Biden’s laptop, blacklist disfavored views, and ban a president aren’t about the past choices of executives in a social media company.
They’re about the power of a handful of people at a private company to influence the public discourse and democracy.Bari Weiss, Dec. 12, 2022
One comment on “Latest Batch of Twitter Docs Reveal Platform Actively “Blacklists” Certain Users, Topics”
It’s refreshing to see that there are a few people in important and trusted positions that believe in allowing the truth to be told and are not afraid of being shunned by the “woke’ communities. Kudos to the very few so called “news professionals” that have stepped up to the plate and actually performed as professionals and true journalists. I hope that there are more powerful people like Trump and Musk that are willing to take the reigns.
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