Twitter’s Shadowbans

First they came for the right-wing assholes. But I was not a right-wing asshole…

The aggressively right wing news site Breitbart has got itself into a lather over the apparent “shadowbanning” of notorious libertarians and neoreactionaries on Twitter including Milo Yiannopoulos, Vox Day, Mark Kern and others. It’s being claimed that some or all of their posts are not being shown to their own followers, and the accusation is naturally being raised that Twitter is involving itself in politically-motivated censorship

What is really going on? The truth is nobody outside Twitter really knows, but the lack of trust in Twitter’s management means the conspiracy theorists are going into overdrive.

Yes, Twitter does have a harassment problem, and individuals with substantial bully pulpits setting their followers on anyone who’s incurred their wrath is a big element of that problem. And yes, Twitter does need to so something about it.

But underhand not-quite-bans for crossing invisible lines enforced without any kind of transparency is not the answer. It only fuels suspicions of creeping political censorship.

If Twitter wants to impose stricter rules on misuse of “@” for the purposes of bullying, fine. Put something unambiguous in the Terms-of-Service and make it clear what is and isn’t allowed. Then enforce it consistently without regards to the offender’s politics.

Or better still, a relatively simple technical fix restricting the visibility of tweets tagging someone who has blocked the author of the tweet, so it can’t be used to set off dogpiles?

And if it does turn out that Twitter is censoring on the grounds of politics, then I hope enough of Twitter’s liberals remember the words of Pastor Niemöller. It might start with people few outside their own right-wing circles would wish to defend, but can you be sure it will stop there?. Will you wait until someone like Maajid Nawaz is silenced because he said something the Saudis don’t like?

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