‘The Twitter Files’: Shadowbanning, Trump, Hunter Biden and more
The mountains of information contained in the Twitter files have created a landslide of news. Following in the footsteps of the great whistleblower moments that came before like Wikileaks, the breadth and depth of reporting is surely giving Twitter’s new boss a headache. All eyes are now on Elon Musk to see how he will respond in both action and words.
For those who followed Musk on his pursuit of the company, could it be that the policies of Twitter behind the scenes are just as contradictory as its new boss? Let’s take a closer look to see what’s going on so far with the Twitter files.
Bari Weiss is the founder and editor of Free the Press and a longtime Twitter user. On December 8, she posted the second part of an expansive Twitter thread that details several unsavory and shadowy practices of the company itself, now known as the Twitter files.
“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,” she wrote.
One example of this blacklisting has created headlines of its own after the subject of the blacklist inspired its own cycle of headlines. “Take, for example, Stanford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya who argued that Covid lockdowns would harm children. Twitter secretly placed him on a “Trends Blacklist,” which prevented his tweets from trending.” Weiss offered.
At the height of the pandemic when a very different President was in charge, the unfiltered access to the words of medical professionals was more than paramount to maintaining the sanity and safety of a world brought to a halt in lockdown.
Pictured in the tweet and several other Twitter files is something resembling a Trello board with colored tags ticking the doctor of violating Twitter’s code of conduct. It was enough to warrant a “Trends blacklist” tag that algorithmically weakens the potential reach of the doctor’s findings and opinions.
Elsewhere, other tags like “Do Not Amplify” and “Search blacklist” have been placed on Democratic and Republican politicians and public figures not only in the USA, but worldwide.
According to Weiss, “Twitter denied that it does such things. In 2018, Twitter’s Vijaya Gadde (then Head of Legal Policy and Trust) and Kayvon Beykpour (Head of Product) said that Twitter does not do shadow bans.” she said. “They also added ‘And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.’” Clearly, the Twitter Files are showing a very different picture.
However, in the eyes of the people in charge, the term actually went under a different name and appeared almost everywhere in more ways than one. According to several former employees, it appears Twitter policy focused on technical semantics rather than owning up to the reality that they do in fact shadow ban.
“What many people call “shadow banning,” Twitter executives and employees call “Visibility Filtering” or “VF.” Multiple high-level sources confirmed its meaning.” Weiss shares.
“VF” refers to Twitter’s control over user visibility,” Weiss explained. “It used VF 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 – all without users’ knowledge.”
“Two additional Twitter employees confirmed that Twitter controls visibility quite a bit.” we control the amplification of your content quite a bit. And normal people do not know how much we do,” one Twitter engineer told Weiss.
As the former richest man in the world, it appears new Twitter boss Elon Musk is trying to deflect blame and explain that the information in the files is why he wanted to take over the company from the outset.
However, his reinstatement of Donald Trump proved to be equally in line with what the Twitter files prove to be the norm for those creating incendiary conversation. There is little filtering of information unless it is left-wing and whistleblowing against the establishment.
From what Musk has been tweeting throughout the pandemic until now, this seems directly on brand and only the beginning of what could possibly lie ahead.
What do you think will become of Twitter now that these files show just how contradictory its policies became? Let us know in the comments!