Twitter, in theory, should be a mind-numbingly simple service.
1. I follow person X.
2. I see and can respond to tweets from person X.
3. Other people do the same with me.
This is how Twitter started, and how it got popular, as the original genius of Twitter was the simplicity of the service. Twitter did something never before seen, taking the instant messenger and making it global in reach. Now, the service has become far more complex, what was once a hands-off operation has now become embroiled in the political arena and free speech arguments. The same happened with Google, what started out as a simple search and email service has evolved into something much more sinister, as Silicon Valley companies have declared themselves the arbiters of our speech, and continue to find new and inventive ways to censor thought crimes they don’t like. I wrote about this some months ago regarding several algorithms I discovered that were flagging myself and others as “Russian Bots,” thus applying what some refer to as a “Shadow Ban” to my account.
Let’s talk about the shadow ban controversy for a moment, as there is something of a disconnect regarding the term. Republicans for some time have been using the term as a catch-all regarding online censorship, and it never really had a strict definition. The gist of it was that everyone does not see your tweets and that the system and algorithms were doing “something” to stop people from seeing your tweets, and it suspiciously was only happening to Republicans. Twitter denied this and issued the following statement:
“People are asking us if we shadowban. We do not. But let’s start with, “what is shadow banning?” The best definition we found is this: deliberately making someone’s content undiscoverable to everyone except the person who posted it, unbeknownst to the original poster. We do not shadowban. 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). And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”
If you read the above statement, it looks like a relatively innocuous corporate reply, but let me point out a few things. First, they apply a strict definition to the term shadowban, then deny that they DELIBERATELY engage in that exact definition of the term. As every conservative on Twitter knows, the description they have decided to use is not at all what we generally perceive as happening. What Twitter is engaging in is plausible deniability, in that they are not directly censoring you for being a Republican, they have just constructed the algorithm in such a way as to downrank conservative sources and hashtags as being bots or troll accounts. Secondly, at the bottom of that statement in parenthesis, they admit to doing exactly what they are accused of, namely not showing you the tweets from people you follow. In short, they are playing a word parsing game to absolve themselves of being accused of censorship. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, even went as far as to go on Sean Hannity’s radio show to deny that they censor conservatives, yet again playing the plausible deniability game.
However, it doesn’t stop there. Not even close.
In March, Twitter introduced a concept called “conversational health.” In other words, behavior they deem abusive or trollish means you are not contributing to a healthy conversation and thus will have your tweets hidden from view. Note that apparently death threats and abuse from left wing accounts do not fall under the “unhealthy conversation” moniker, as I’ve never even heard of someone on the left being “shadow banned” for such behavior. Yet, if Chelsea Handler, Amy Siskind, Jimmy Kimmel, or any other progressive tweets something, and I respond with a humorous reply or correction, that is me contributing to poor conversational health.
Let me show you how this works.
1. Person A comments on Person B’s Tweet.
2. Group C initiates a campaign to block and report Person A.
3. Person A is now flagged as a “low conversation health” user.
4. Twitter’s algorithm removes Person A from visibility for an indeterminate amount of time.
You see, none of this process requires Twitter to censor based on political viewpoint. When Twitter says “We don’t deliberately censor conservatives,” they technically aren’t lying. There isn’t someone physically sitting at a desk and saying “AH HA, you used #MAGA, here’s a ban!” The other trick that they use is to rank sources such as Breitbart or Infowars extremely low, to filter tweets involving them to lower visibility, much like Google does in search rankings. The only way to “beat” this system is to have so many followers that they can’t effectively shadowban you without backlash.
Why then is all this happening? Here is my theory: organized pressure campaigns.
Three years ago, no one had even heard of a shadow ban. It was extremely rare to hear of someone getting banned from Google, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, even for heinous hate speech. Yet now, all of a sudden, in the past two years, it’s a daily occurrence perpetrated by our Silicon Valley overlords. It’s almost as if there was an event that happened in the last two years that was the trigger mechanism for all of this online censorship.
Oh, wait, let me guess.
The election of Donald Trump was facilitated to a large extent by his domination of social media, and now the left wants to stop it from happening again, at any cost. If you watch left-wing Twitter as I do, you can watch in real time as they wage organized reporting and blocking campaigns, which works in conjunction with Twitter algorithms to suppress conservative thought, equating to a “shadow ban.” There is a reason that we didn’t see significant censorship two or three years ago because the left wasn’t taking social media seriously as a perpetuator of conservative or Republican ideas. Having realized that monumental error, they now seek to rectify it by organizing pressure campaigns against all of these companies, utilizing their massive organizing apparatus and partnerships with groups like the ADL and ACLU. It is no accident that social media censorship has ramped up dramatically in the Age of Trump, and shows no sign of slowing down. Social media cost them an election once, and they learned from it, realizing how imperative it is to stop speech that opposes theirs at the source.
Then, on top of all of it, this past week a project came to fruition they’ve been working on for some time: the complete destruction of the third party app ecosystem. Now, it’s no longer enough for them to completely control the conversation, they have to control how you see the conversation, introducing over the past few years a scaling set of barriers to ensure third-party apps can’t operate effectively. Twitter essentially requires that you use their app, which few like, to ensure that the third party apps cannot stop their draconian rule set and algorithms. Let me put it this way: the main Twitter app is so terrible, that I elected to use Tweetbot instead, even with a reduced functionality set. Twitter is, quite literally, putting entire companies out of business to ensure they control the conversation.
The left lost once due to social media, and they are doing everything possible to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
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Steve is the author of Forging the Iron Mind, and is the founder and CEO of Americana Prime.