Twitter has been accused of secretly “blacklisting” prominent US right-wing figures to ensure they reach a smaller audience.
Prominent right-wing figures such as talk show host Dan Bongino, conservative activist Charlie Kirk and anti-lockdown campaigner Jay Bhattacharya have been apparently demoted Twitter before the staff it was taken over by elon musk.
Part of a so-called Twitter profile, a “blacklist” limits accounts’ visibility or prevents them from appearing on Twitter’s list of trending topics.
Twitter file, which appears to be taken directly from muskshowing detailed internal documents from Twitter’s former regime, including internal messages and screenshots of administrator tools.
They were shared with a group of right-wing journalists who shared Musk’s views on free speech.
The controversial billionaire has described himself as a “free speech absolutist” battling the “clear head virus”.
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How are right-wing figures “blacklisted”?
The paper suggests that Dr. Bhattacharya of Stanford University, One of a group of academics who argue that COVID-19 should be allowed to spread to develop herd immunitywas secretly placed on a “trending blacklist,” which prevented his tweets from trending.
Right-wing talk show host Bongino is “blacklisted from search,” meaning his tweets don’t appear in search results.
According to the report posted on Twitter, the practice is known internally as “visibility filtering.”
“Think of viewability filtering as a way for us to suppress what people see at different levels. It’s a very powerful tool,” a senior Twitter employee told Bari Weiss, a group of journalists with extensive access to Twitter’s internal documents one.
Another Twitter engineer said: “We have a lot of control over visibility. We have a lot of control over the amplification of your content. The average person doesn’t know how much we do.”
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Twitter has long denied secretly downgrading certain accounts, a practice sometimes known as shadow bans.
In 2018, the site’s head of legal policy and trust and product owner wrote a blog post saying “We don’t ban shadows.”
“We certainly do not impose bans based on political views or ideology,” they added.
However, the company has publicly acknowledged reducing the tweet’s visibility in searches and trending topics.
It also ranks tweets, a practice that includes downgrading “tweets from malicious actors intent on manipulating or divisive conversations,” a habit the blog suggests is more prevalent among right-wing figures.
How do other platforms work?
The practice of “blacklisting” and “whitelisting” certain users is common in social media and other internet businesses such as Google or YouTube, and is used to ensure websites display the most relevant content.
In fact, Musk suggested that, under his control, Twitter would use a similar technique, promoting helpful tweets and downplaying “negative/hateful” ones.
However, questions have been raised about the arbitrary manner of these demotions and promotions.
Just this week, the committee investigating Meta found that celebrities, politicians and business partners were given extra leeway to break the rules on Instagram and Facebook, a practice it said caused “real harm”.
Charlie Beckett, a professor of media and communication at the London School of Economics, said: “I hope (perhaps naively) that Musk has now set a precedent for greater transparency with regard to future Twitter moderation and even moderation of other platforms and news outlets.”
“Release everything now”
However, while the Twitter documents are intended to expose such shady practices, they have been criticized for offering a one-sided, politically motivated view of what is really going on inside the company and are designed to paint a favorable image of Musk.
“If the goal is transparency to build trust, why not post everything unfiltered and let people judge for themselves? Include all discussions about current and future actions? Make everything public now,” former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Complained to Musk on Twitter.
Musk promised further disclosures soon.
“The most important data (for you) is hidden and some may have been deleted,” he replied to Mr Dorsey, “but everything we find will be published”.