Twitter and Instagram are releasing updates that will inform users if their accounts have been “shadow banned,” a practice in which accounts are silenced instead of being outright banned. This is a significant revelation, as it confirms that these social media companies have used this practice in the past. Twitter is currently facing criticism from Bari Weiss, the founder of Free Press, who alleges that the company has engaged in shadow banning to prevent certain tweets from trending.
What is a shadow ban? What is Twitter saying about it?
To put it simply, a shadow ban is the partial blocking or blacklisting of a user’s profile to reduce visibility without their knowledge. Instead of an outright ban, it may result in less engagement with the account and lower visibility of posts. In other words, your followers cannot see your social media posts.
To address this issue, Elon Musk revealed that Twitter is working on a software update that will display the “true account status,” letting users know if they have been shadowbanned. It will also highlight the reason for the appeal and the steps to take. Instagram has also announced a similar update, but without mentioning the shadow ban.
The company says users can soon view their “Account Status.” The post reads:
“Account Status will be your one-stop shop to see what’s happening with your account and content distribution. We’ll start by making it easier for people to know whether their account is at risk of being disabled. In the coming months, we plan to add more information to this tool, giving people a better sense of how their content is being distributed and recommended across different parts of Instagram.”
Why is the announcement significant?
While Instagram continues to play it safe by not calling it a shadow ban, Twitter has admitted that some users may have been shadow banned. It is more significant now because Twitter flatly denied allegations of shadow-banning user accounts in 2018.
At that time, Twitter’s then-policy head Vijaya Gadde, who was recently fired by Musk, denied allegations of shadow banning. In a shared blog post with Kayvon Beykpour (who is still at the company), Gadde wrote, “We do not shadow ban. 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.”
It means that the platform has the ability to suppress views and opinions without informing the user, and it has most likely done so in the past. If grossly misused, it may even favor political parties in elections.
Why is Twitter addressing the shadow ban now?
This response has two parts. To begin, Elon Musk has stated numerous times in the past that he wants his platform to become a center for free speech. If the platform does indeed silence users’ voices and opinions, it contradicts his own claim.
More importantly, the development comes at a time when The Free Press’s Bari Weiss posted a long series of tweets about how Twitter shadow banned some accounts. Her first tweet reads, “A new Twitter Files investigation reveals that teams of Twitter employees build blacklists, prevent disfavored tweets from trending, and actively limit the visibility of entire accounts or even trending topics—all in secret, without informing users.”
Weiss claims that Twitter secretly placed Stanford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, who argued that Covid lockdowns would harm children, on a “Trends Blacklist.” Some right-wing and conservative profiles are also said to have been silenced, or shadow banned. She claims that shadow banning is referred to as “Visibility Filtering” or “VF” by Twitter executives and employees. However, a former Twitter employee, Sachee tweeted that VF refers to hiding content from one’s timeline. The tool is already available to users.
Can you check if you’re shadow banned?
Twitter and Instagram have yet to provide more information about their upcoming tools and policies. However, there are some third-party tools available to determine whether your account is affected.
Users can, for example, use this free website (shadow ban yuzurisa) to see if their account is being hidden in searches.
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