Remember all the times Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and top Twitter lawyer Vijaya Gadde assured us that Twitter neither shadowbans nor targets conservatives? Well, they lied.
In the second installment of Elon Musk’s “Twitter Files,” independent journalist Bari Weiss exposed how the Big Tech company was secretly “blacklisting” conservative tweets and users by keeping “disfavored” tweets from trending and secretly hiding whole accounts or topics without users’ knowledge.
One Twitter team, the “Strategic Response Team – Global Escalation Team” (SRT-GET), was reportedly committed to censoring “up to 200 ‘cases’” per day. Victims included prominent conservatives Dan Bongino and Charlie Kirk, as well as Stanford University professor and co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration Dr. Jay Bhattacharya.
Another secret censorship group, the “Site Integrity Policy, Policy Escalation Support team” (SIP-PES), was responsible for the most “politically sensitive decisions.” The group included Gadde, Dorsey, trust and safety head Yoel Roth, former CEO Parag Agrawal, and others, and it was personally responsible for suppressing the viral Libs of TikTok Twitter account, among other high-profile censorship calls.
But remember when Twitter execs repeatedly insisted they didn’t engage in shadowbanning?
‘We Do Not Shadow Ban’
On July 25, 2018, Vice News reported that several prominent Republican politicians, such as Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, and Matt Gaetz, did not show up in a drop-down menu of automatically suggested searches, even when typing in the politicians’ names.
A day after the outcry over the apparent shadowbanning, Gadde and Twitter’s product head Kayvon Beykpour attempted to couch concerns by co-authoring a blog post titled “Setting the record straight on shadow banning.” “We do not shadow ban,” Gadde and Beykpour insisted. “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.”
The Algorithm ‘Doesn’t Make Judgements Based on Political Views’
The day before publishing that blog post, Beykpour posted a Twitter thread blaming the discrimination against Republican members of Congress on the company’s use of “behavioral signals and machine learning,” which they were working to “improve.” However, Beykpour assured users that “our behavioral ranking doesn’t make judgments based on political views or the substance of tweets.”
‘We Certainly Don’t Shadow Ban Based on Political Viewpoints’
Dorsey then shared Gadde and Beykpour’s blog post, writing, “We don’t shadow ban, and we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints.”
“We want a vibrant and healthy public conversation inclusive of all perspectives, and one that’s immediately relevant and valuable,” added Dorsey.
‘We Do Not Shadow Ban. Period’
In August 2018, Dorsey phoned into Sean Hannity’s radio show, telling listeners, “We do not shadow ban according to political ideology or viewpoint or content. Period.” Dorsey added that there is “a lot of nuance to this” and it “is definitely not easy but we’re trying to approach this with a very simple goal which is how do we earn more trust.” He also said the company is “getting better and better, step by step.”
‘Our Policies and Algorithms’ Do Not Discriminate Against Conservatives
In a September 2018 congressional hearing in response to the Vice story, Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton asked Dorsey if Twitter discriminated against conservatives. “No, our policies and our algorithms don’t take into consideration any affiliation, philosophy, or viewpoint,” said Dorsey, who then spent the rest of the hearing blaming the censorship on a mistake in Twitter’s algorithm.
‘No,’ Twitter Is Not ‘Rigged to Censor Conservatives’
In the same congressional hearing, Rep. Mike Doyle asked Dorsey if Twitter is “rigged to censor conservatives.”
“No,” Dorsey responded.
“Are you censoring people?” Doyle asked.
“No,” Dorsey answered again.
“Twitter’s shadow-banning prominent Republicans … is that true?” Doyle pressed.
‘No,’ Twitter Does Not Shadowban Based on Politics
In October 2020, Dorsey admitted that the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story was “not great,” to which conservative commentator Dave Rubin said, “Do you shadowban based on political beliefs? Simple yes or no will do.” Dorsey emphatically answered, “No.”
Naturally, the corporate media accepted Twitter execs’ shadowbanning denial at face value. A 2018 Vox article called the idea that prominent Republicans were being shadowbanned a “persistent conspiracy theory.” In 2018, a Washington Post article about Twitter “myths” said the “[claim] that Twitter is systemically banning conservatives from the platform because of their ideology” is “a conspiracy theory from the fringes of the Internet [that] has crept into the mainstream.” And in March 2019, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt said the idea that Twitter “shadow bans” conservatives “has been widely debunked.”
The Shadowbanning Is Real
The idea that Twitter allowed users to “share ideas” “without barriers” (as its mission says) was a bald-faced lie. Twitter’s political discrimination was not exclusively algorithmic. The deliberate silencing of conservative voices was carried out by regular employees and the tippy top of Twitter’s corporate ladder.
As Weiss reported, Twitter referred to its shadowbanning under the moniker “Visibility Filtering,” under which it was able to “block searches of individual users; to limit the scope of a particular tweet’s discoverability; to block select users’ posts from ever appearing on the ‘trending’ page, and from inclusion in hashtag searches.”
Charlie Kirk’s account contained an internal warning label that read “Do Not Amplify.” Twitter secretly condemned Bhattacharya to a “Trends Blacklist” and put Bongino on a “search blacklist.” Libs of TikTok was suspended numerous times for allegedly violating the company’s “hateful conduct” policy, but insider communications revealed that “after her seventh suspension, the [SIP-PES] committee acknowledged that ‘LTT has not directly engaged in behavior violative of the Hateful Conduct policy.’”
Twitter, however, “justified her suspensions internally by claiming her posts encouraged online harassment of ‘hospitals and medical providers’ by insinuating ‘that gender-affirming healthcare is equivalent to child abuse or grooming,’” reported Weiss.
Shadowbanning doesn’t appear to be leaving Twitter anytime soon. Many thought criminals, like The Federalist’s CEO and co-founder Sean Davis, are still shadowbanned, with Musk writing in November that he would keep some form of shadowbanning on the app because, according to him, “freedom of speech” does not include “freedom of reach.” Thursday night, Musk reiterated that Twitter would continue to secretly censor, and instead of currently censored users being freed, Musk said they would have to “appeal” their shadowbans.
Freedom of speech without freedom of reach is not freedom. No matter if it’s Musk or his predecessors doing the censoring, the toxic practice is slowly dismantling the digital exchange of ideas one shadowbanned tweet at a time.