What is a ‘Shadow ban’?
Is Twitter really blocking some users from the Twitter-sphere without them knowing?
You may have heard the term ‘shadowban’ being tossed around a lot online recently – especially from Donald Trump, who has accused microblogging site Twitter of shadowbanning prominent republicans.
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
But what does the term ‘shadow ban’ mean?
A shadowban is a form of punishment, or way to regulate an online community.
When a user misbehaves, be that using unacceptable language, harassing other users or posting irrelevant or offensive material, they will often be banned by the admins of whatever forum or group they are acting in.
However, often when a user like this banned, they will be aware they have been banned. To counter this, they will simply make a new account to continue their behaviour under a new username and identity, and the process will have to occur all over again.
A shadowban differs from a regular ban in that it is not apparent to the use that they have banned. To the user, all will seem normal and they will be able to perform all their regular actions – but their actions or accounts will not be visible to other users.
The problematic users content may not always be completely invisible, in some cases a shadowban just reduces the visibility of a users content, or limits the number of people who can see it.
Social news sharing website Reddit is known to use the practise against accounts suspected of posting spam. Chinese social media and messaging app WeChat was revealed as using the practise of shadowbanning posts and messages containing certain keywords without notice.
Why is Donald Trump tweeting about this?
A Vice news story (which has since been updated) was published this week claiming that prominent republicans were not showing up in searches on twitter.
Members of the republican party, as well as alt-right outlets such as Infowars and Breitbart jumped on the story as proof of long held suspicions that the social media site was shadowbanning certain political opinions and accounts.
On Thursday morning, Project Veritas, a right wing news outlet run by James O’Keefe published a video of what they claim to be a former twitter software engineer.
We caught a Twitter software engineer RED HANDED when he admitted that Twitter #ShadowBans to our undercover journalist. Twitter will never admit it: "it's a lot of bad press if, like, people figure out that you're like shadow banning them. It's like, unethical in some way." pic.twitter.com/MmBGKohWLj— James O'Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) July 26, 2018
In the video, the engineer suggests twitter is using shadowbans to gain ‘ultimate control’. This ultimately found its way to Fox News.
Twitter has indeed made changes to the way it ranks users based on their behaviour and how they show up in search rankings.
Twitter has said that the changes it made were ‘attempts to clean up discourse on its platform.’ And that the changes to the visibility of certain politicians were side effects of these attempts.
Speaking to the Guardian, a Twitter spokesperson said “We do not shadowban, our behavioural ranking doesn’t make judgments based on political views or the substance of tweets.”
Twitter has said it has now fixed the error and that the accounts will show up as normal.
This comes as the latest in a long line of complaints levied against tech firms by members of the political right, and it certainly won’t be the last.