When people talk about censorship on Twitter, it is often naïvely assumed that this must mean straightforward banning of users, or clumsy deletion of individual tweets. In fact, individual tweets are very rarely deleted, except in tandem with sanctioning the user responsible (usually with a lifelong ban, or a precursor to it). As for the banning of users, that is certainly widespread and occurs literally daily at this point.
But most censorship that occurs on Twitter is much subtler than straightforward bans or deletions.
With an entity as complex as a twenty-first century global social networking website, there are countless ways for censorship to be implemented. Furthermore, this implementation is often difficult or impossible to confirm, since we cannot examine the labyrinthine program code which is the life-blood of the platform. However, while we cannot prove it, we can observe its effects.
What follows is a (hardly exhaustive) list of censorship techniques that have been witnessed on Twitter. Examples and evidence will be linked where possible. Some of these techniques might seem petty, strange, short-sighted, vindictive, malicious, or shameless. They are.
- Disallowing hyperlinks to “naughty” websites (e.g., try tweeting a link to the Morgoth’s Review blog).
- Shadowbanning (to the extent that there is even a website dedicated to detecting whether you are shadowbanned!).
- The blue check mark, which simply means that your identity had been officially verified, was rebranded as meaning that Twitter “approved” of you, and thus became a status symbol on the site, the lack of which is seen as a mark against you. Today, blue-checked accounts are overwhelmingly liberal, they receive prominence on the site, and they get away with saying very offensive things.
- Unsubscribing people from your account so as to artificially keep it small, so that it will never have the prominence or “social credibility” of large accounts.
- Deleting likes from tweets so as to artificially deny them the prominence of more popular tweets. “I’ve looked at analytics of some of my tweets, some of them have had thousands of views, but only 3-4 likes.”
- Implementing a “low-quality” filter, then assigning “low-quality” status to Right-wing accounts.
- Viewing replies to other users in some cases as “targeted harassment.”
- Monitoring those accounts to which Right-wingers subscribe for ideas about which ones to ban, shadowban, cap, and so on. This cannot be proven, but at least two accounts have been banned merely hours after Ann Coulter subscribed to them.
- Banning aspiring politicians (e.g., Anne-Marie Waters). In Anne-Marie Waters’ case, since her ban, the first Google search result for “twitter anne marie waters” is now a parody account demonizing her. This demonstrates one subtle type of harm that is done to public figures when they are banned from Twitter: They can no longer use the platform to define and protect their brand, while their enemies can freely use it to define and harm their brand.
- Banning political candidates during election campaigns (e.g., Carl Benjamin and Tommy Robinson).
- Banning political parties (e.g., For Britain).
- Banning identitarian organizations (e.g., Generation Identity).
- Mysteriously freezing an account’s follower count, perhaps by silently un-subbing followers, or by simply faking the count.
- Seeking out and accepting “advice” from the Southern Poverty Law Center, but not from opposing organizations.
- Two-tier censorship: Famous people get away with tweeting things that would see ordinary people banned.
- When someone is typing a tweet, systematically inducing misspellings of current hashtags through auto-suggestion that Twitter doesn’t want to gain momentum.
- Disabling the auto-suggesting of hashtags that Twitter doesn’t want to proliferate.
- Making it difficult for troublesome users to log in. “Every day, I’m locked out for ‘suspicious activity.’ To log back in, I have to get a code texted to me. This happens every day.”
- Banning users who tweet certain memes that Twitter doesn’t want to proliferate.
Given the nature of huge corporations as well as highly complex programming, Twitter’s workings are opaque to the public. We cannot know whether any of the techniques listed above are systematic, deliberate, accidental, or even illusory. However, what we can say is that they have all been witnessed, and most of them have been encountered many times by many different people.
And usually, these people happen to be on the right of the political spectrum. While injustice is no doubt occasionally meted out to Left-wing users of Twitter as well, it is surely significant that the smug phrase “just build your own platform!” is addressed almost exclusively by Left-wingers towards Right-wingers. They know what we know: Their political stripe is in charge of the platform. We are dismayed by this; they are triumphalist about it.
We cannot see the mechanisms at work, but the patterns are glaringly self-evident. We cannot crunch the exact numbers, but the averages are felt every day.
The global public square that is Twitter is increasingly a place where no Left-wing opinion is too extreme, but a Right-wing opinion is something users can expect to be unceremoniously banned for voicing, especially if they do so in the presence of Left-wing adversaries, who, increasingly, understand that all they have to do in order to “win the debate” is report their opponent for “terms of service” violations.
Of course, many would argue about the merits of spending time debating on Twitter. Does anything come of it, or is it a silly waste of time? That question is naïve, however: Our opponents on the Left clearly benefit from using Twitter, and they clearly want us off the platform. This is not mere spite on their part; the Left understands how one thing leads to another and how everything counts, so they have reasons for wanting us “deplatformed.” The glee with which they celebrate news of our Twitter bannings should not be taken by us as misguided or childish. On the contrary, I think we should trust our enemy’s judgement. If they think it’s important that we be absent from the platform, then we should take the hint and consider it vital that we be present.
Furthermore, as the list of techniques above hopefully shows, it is not enough that we are merely “present” on Twitter. We must enjoy the same freedom of speech and freedom of action on the platform that everyone else enjoys. It is absurd and a blatant injustice that Twitter gets away with treating Right-wingers the way they do.
Unfortunately, the only way to put an end to this abuse of the public would seem to be governmental. The notion that the Twitter corporation is responsible for the content that its users post, and therefore has the moral right to censor that content or ban those users, and therefore has the legal right to do so, must be done away with.
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