I don’t like whining. I’m not one to complain to a referee or umpire if I’m losing a game, and I can’t stand complaining without also trying to find a solution to a problem.
So anytime somebody jumps up to complain about “shadow banning” or some social media giant “throttling” their traffic because the Man just can’t handle the truth, I’m usually rolling my eyes. Get good, stop posting boring content, and you’ll do better on social media.
However, after the Facebook trending topics revelations and others, I’ve become more open to considering these complaints. In July, Twitter responded to allegations the company was “shadow banning” conservative accounts by making their Twitter handles less discoverable when searched. Their blog post on the subject bluntly denied that Twitter engages in any banning based on ideological perspective.
However, they did clarify that Twitter ranks tweets lower from “bad-faith actors who intend to manipulate or divide the conversation.” How do they decide who’s a “bad-faith actor”? They follow these three indicators:
Note my highlight. Number 1 and 2 make sense. Authentic tweets from real people who don’t hide behind anonymity should be promoted, as should your activity on Twitter. However, Twitter’s third standard could be artificially docking conservatives because of many liberals’ actions on Twitter.
In 2014 a study from the Pew Research Journalism Project found that “liberals are more likely to block or unfriend someone online because they disagree with something they have posted.” Without diving into the merits this kind of ideological blocking, let’s just examine the effect.
We can assume this behavior demonstrated on Facebook carries over to liberals on Twitter, and there’s some pretty compelling anecdotal evidence to back it up given the popularity of Block Together.
Block Together is a tool that was developed to prevent harassment on Twitter by creating mass blocking lists. An individual can create a list of Twitter users they block, then share that list so others can easily upload it to their profile and block those individuals. Some of these lists include hundreds of thousands of Twitter accounts. This ability to share and upload blocklists can be abused by those on the left side of the political spectrum, perhaps unintentionally.
Currently, Twitter doesn’t allow you to search and see who, if anyone has blocked you. However, a Twitter account called The Unblocker allows you to scan publicly available Block Together lists and see if you’re on any. I did and it turns out I’m on 12 blocklists.
You can see the lists for yourself here. Most of these lists include more than a quarter of a million Twitter handles. One was more than 600,000 other users.
I have no idea why I’m on the list. I’m your garden-variety conservative. I don’t go out of my way to harass people, I don’t start arguments, I probably spend more time tweeting about baseball, truth be told. So I’ve got some questions for Jack and the team at Twitter:
- Is my reach decreasing because I’m on these mass blocklists?
- Will Twitter continue to allow mass blocking?
- Given a portion of Twitter uses blocking and muting so aggressively, will Twitter reconsider how it finds bad-faith actors?
- Will Twitter create procedures to let users know if they’re being blocked or muted for their behavior?
- At what point are those who engage in mass blocking bad-faith actors?
If Twitter is ranking accounts based on how many people block you and one large segment of Twitter is abusing the block feature, this could seriously decrease the reach of that group.
This is likely an oversight by Twitter’s team rather than anything intentional. I’m not entirely sure how this affects the conversation on Twitter, and I have no recourse to get unblocked if it’s affecting me negatively.
The author originally published this article at Medium.