January 17, 2019

Shadow-Banning, Twitter, and Conspiracy Theories

“At two occasionally tense congressional hearings Wednesday, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Congressional Committee for Energy and Commerce grilled Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on a broad range of topics, from concern over the proliferation of bots on Twitter to how the platform deals with hate speech.

But again and again, concerned members of Congress kept returning to one topic: shadow-banning, and the question of whether Twitter is engaging in the practice with regard to conservative voices on the site.

The basic definition of shadow-banning is simple: A member of a given internet community is tacitly blocked or muted to the rest of the community without their knowledge, so that only they can see what they’re posting. Shadow-banning has been around for years — it dates back to early internet forums — but the term has been catapulted into the news this year thanks to a persistent conspiracy theory that Twitter has pointedly and purposefully shadow-banned Republicans who use the site.

The conspiracy theory took root after Twitter made a change to its algorithm that effectively prevented hundreds of thousands of Twitter accounts from being auto-suggested when people used the site’s search function. The change turned out to affect the accounts of many conservative and Republican politicians.”

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