U.S.-based microblogging giant Twitter has recently come under fire for allegedly banning certain users without cause.
In response to these claims, Twitter has published a statement explaining the company’s position on so-called ‘shadow bans,’ while also expanding on the company’s ranking algorithm.
Shadow banning refers to the process by which users are removed from digital platforms without the explicit knowledge of the user.
While rare, shadow banning occurs on platforms like Reddit, when users fail to adhere to the service’s community guidelines.
According to a July 27th, 2018 media release, attributed to legal, policy and trust and safety lead Vijaya Gadde and Periscope co-founder Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter doesn’t actually engage in shadow bans.
“You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile),” reads an excerpt from the release.
“And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”
Twitter’s latest media release also addresses the criticism that certain politically conservative users have lodged against the company.
According to prominent conservatives on Twitter, like Brent Bozell — founder of the Media Research Center and the Parents Television Council — Twitter unfairly prevents right-wing ideologists from having their views and opinions reach the majority of Twitter’s user base.
Shocking revelations that Twitter continues to shadow-ban conservatives such as @Jim_Jordan and @mattgaetz may well constitute FEC violations. I'm calling on Congress to convene hearings with Twitter executives to fully investigate these sleazy and underhanded acts of censorship.
— Brent Bozell (@BrentBozell) July 26, 2018
The issue came to a head this week, when prominent hard-right and alt-right figures, like white supremacist and ethno-nationalist Richard Spencer, didn’t appear in auto-generated search results.
While accounts were still active, anyone who searched for certain users were unable to find their accounts through Twitter.
According to Gadde and Beykpour, however, the search result issue affected “hundreds of thousands of accounts,” including the accounts of a number of politicians part of the U.S. left-leaning Democratic Party.
“This impact was not limited to a certain political affiliation or geography,” reads an excerpt.
“And, to be clear, these accounts were only impacted within search auto-suggestions– they still appeared in search results.”
How the algorithm works, according to Twitter
Much like other social networking giants, Twitter hasn’t been shy about the fact that the company uses an algorithm to rank tweets and search results.
“We do this because Twitter is most useful when it’s immediately relevant,” explained Gadde and Beykpour.
“These ranking models take many signals into consideration to best organize tweets for timely relevance.”
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
Gadde and Beykpour explained that the search result issue most likely stemmed from Twitter’s relevance ranking algorithm and the manner in which users were interacting with conservative accounts.
“There are communities that try to boost each other’s presence on the platform through coordinated engagement,” explained Gadde and Beykpour.
“We believe these types of actors engaged with the representatives’ accounts — the impact of this coordinated behaviour, in combination with our implementation of search auto-suggestions, caused the representatives’ accounts to not show up in auto-suggestions.”
According to Twitter, the issue has been resolved, but that hasn’t stopped right-wing Twitter users from continuing to criticize the platform.
Certain vocal Twitter users, like U.S. President Donald Trump, have even stated plans to lobby political bodies to solve the perceived issue.