On Tuesday, VICE News inadvertently helped fuel online conservative outrage by claiming that Twitter, in yet another attempt to improve the quality of its platform, was “shadow banning” some prominent Republicans.
The pushback was immediate and predictable. Conservative outlets from Breitbart to the Daily Caller to the Washington Examiner all excitedly ran with the story. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted “Enough is enough with this crap,” while the president said it was “not good,” and vowed an investigation.
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
He knows. He always knows….@realDonaldTrump Twitter “SHADOW BANNING” prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.#Shadowbanned #TrumpsSuperElites #MAGA2018 @Twitter https://t.co/Oj98iIxEAZ pic.twitter.com/nqALKZzcf3
— Ben Garrison Cartoons at GrrrGraphics.com (@GrrrGraphics) July 26, 2018
Shadow banning is a technique in which website users’ posts are visible only to them. The idea is that instead of a user being permanently banned from an account, with the controversy that can cause, the user will simply stop posting because of a lack of interaction with other users.
According to VICE, “prominent Republicans” who have been shadow banned include Republican Party chair Ronna McDaniel, Trump Jr’s spokesperson Andrew Surabian and several GOP lawmakers. But users who follow these accounts will still be able to see their tweets, which goes against the entire concept of shadow banning.
Twitter said that they were “aware” that some accounts were not populating the search box and were looking to fix it. “I’d emphasize that our technology is based on account *behavior*,” a spokesperson said. “Not the content of the tweets.” On May 15th Twitter also introduced new policies aimed at combating “troll-like behavior” in which “people contributing to the healthy conversation will be more visible in conversations and search.”
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.
This is hardly the first time conservatives have complained about social media censorship. In May, Ronna McDaniel and Trump re-election campaign manager Brad Parscale went on Fox and Friends to publicize an open letter in which they claimed there was “rampant political bias” in Facebook and Twitter.
When Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in April, many Republican Senators used it as a chance to ask why conservative media personalities Diamond & Silk were being “censored” from Facebook — a claim that is completely false.