Visibility filtering: Twitter is said to have specifically suppressed content and users

Information from the “Twitter Files” confirms a long-held suspicion: “Shadow Banning” really does exist. Twitter’s management has always denied this.

Twitter apparently has various tools to limit the reach of individual tweets or accounts. This is shown by new revelations from the “Twitter Files” published by US journalist Bari Weiss. The information confirms users’ long-held suspicion that Twitter suppresses certain content with so-called “shadow banning”.

Among other things, Weiss published some photographs on Twitter, which apparently show an internal view of Twitter accounts. This shows how user accounts are marked differently. In addition to categories such as “verified” or “active”, there are also indicators that appear to be in a moderate context: “Recent Abuse Strike” (recently reprimanded for violation), “Trends Blacklist” (do not include in the trends), “Do Not Amplify” (not amplify), “Notifications Spike” (increased notifications).

This suggests that the Twitter moderation team has tools to limit the reach of individual tweets or entire accounts and blacklist them. Internally, this is referred to as “Visibility Filtering” or “VF,” reports Weiss.

Visibility filtering was used to manipulate the search results of individual users, it is said. Twitter also restricted the findability of tweets or their connection to hashtags and prevented tweets from certain users from appearing in the trends. One employee described visibility filtering as a “powerful tool” to suppress visibility at multiple levels, Weiss tweeted.

In the case of particularly prominent accounts with a high reach, moderation becomes a top priority: a group called “Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support”, which includes the chief legal officer and the CEO had to be involved.

Twitter had always rejected the suspicion repeatedly expressed by users that their visibility to others had been artificially suppressed. “We won’t do it,” read a blog post from then-legal chief Vijay Gadde and product chief Kayvon Beykpour.

Above all, Twitter management rejected the accusation of unilaterally moderating expressions of political opinion. Founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, who is said to have stopped being involved in some decisions recently, emphasized political neutrality. The few details are known from the Twitter files so far left at least justified doubts.

The first part of the “Twitter files” published by US journalist Matt Taibbi over the weekend allows the conclusion that both major political parties in the US have had a direct influence on moderation decisions on several levels. Taibbi speaks of a clear predominance of moderate decisions in the sense of the US Democrats. Representatives of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) are said to have reported tweets by the conservative actor James Woods, whereupon the Twitter moderator stepped in.

Shortly before the 2020 US presidential election, after intervention by high-ranking Democrats, Twitter suppressed an article in the New York Post newspaper about a possible role played by then-presidential candidate Joe Biden in his son Hunter’s dealings and blocked the newspaper’s account. The ban was justified with a ban on the publication of data originating from hacks. The New York Post’s information came not from a hack, but from a laptop belonging to the Biden son that an informant leaked to the newspaper. Dorsey later described the measures as a mistake.

The new owner and CEO Elon Musk have promised to create more transparency. So far, however, the Twitter files have only allowed a small insight: Taibbi and Weiss have only been able to view and verify a small amount of data. They have pledged to post their findings on Twitter first, Weiss says. Deeper insights are announced for upcoming articles. Musk makes it exciting: When asked whether candidates for political office were also “visibility filtered” by Twitter during an ongoing election campaign, the new Twitter boss replies: “Yes.”

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